Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Rebel Army in Disarray?

LRA seemingly in turmoil amid infighting, claims of new massacre and more executions.
After 20 years of war and a year-and-a-half of on-off peace negotiations, the brutal and enigmatic Lord’s Resistance Army of northern Uganda appears to be in disarray.

Over the course of the week, reports have emerged of a massacre by an alleged LRA splinter group and of further executions of LRA commanders suspected of being disloyal to the rebels’ reclusive leader, Joseph Kony.

The suspected breakaway rebel unit, said by some to be fighters once loyal to the former LRA second-in-command, Vincent Otti - who was killed by Kony last October - is now reportedly headed to the Central African Republic, CAR.

These reports have compounded not only the growing suspicions that the LRA is disintegrating, but that the stumbling peace talks, which were recessed last week after restarting only days earlier, may never reach a conclusion.

The most recent victim of the increasingly unpredictable Kony was apparently a commander named Pope Ojara, who was caught trying to escape the rebels’ camp in Garamba Park in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

Ojara reportedly was killed along with his pregnant wife and another child after being captured in the village of Dungu, which is near Garamba.

The rebels were also accused of carrying out an attack on a village in the Western Equatoria province of South Sudan where an estimated 136 people were killed, a number abducted and drugs and food were looted.

Provincial Deputy Governor Joseph Ngere, who investigated the attack, said the rebels were moving towards CAR.

“We have seen hundreds of LRA rebels, children, the elderly and fighters moving westwards in the direction of Central African Republic. They have been moving for the last two days,” Ngere told the Daily Monitor of Kampala.

Meanwhile in Juba, South Sudan, where the peace talks were temporarily suspended, three more people have abandoned the LRA negotiating team - the latest being Crispus Ayena Odongo, a Kampala lawyer who has been acting as a legal advisor.

Although the LRA team had returned to the peace talks on February 6 under the new leadership of David Nyekorach Matsanga, the talks were suspended when he asked for time to go to Nairobi to meet negotiating team replacements and then with Kony in Garamba.

The new legal team consists of Caleb Alaka of Kampala, and an international criminal lawyer, Jane Aywar, who has reportedly worked with the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR.

The Nairobi trip was cancelled, however, said Matsanga, and the negotiating team was to meet in Juba this week.

Because of the disruptions, discussions on critical issues such as demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration, which were to have been resolved by the end of January, will not begin until early in March, if at all.

Despite the frequent delays and distractions, the LRA’s chief negotiator remained upbeat.

“We are here, we are ready, and I can assure you there is no other way we are going to achieve peace in northern Uganda apart from using the peace process,” said Matsanga.

In what has become a confusing, yet routine part of the negotiating team’s rhetoric, Matsanga blamed Uganda for the delays.

“It is the government delegation that is failing us,” charged Matsanga, noting that Uganda’s chief negotiator, Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, had left Juba after the LRA asked for a pause in the talks. “They don’t want to address the root causes of this conflict.”

Sources within the diplomatic community suggested that recent events show Kony is becoming desperate because his commanders are abandoning him. As a result, the say, he is increasingly distrustful and brutal towards his own men.

Curiously, Matsanga refuses to admit that Otti is dead, despite Kony already admitting that he executed him for supposedly profiteering from the peace talks and establishing links with the Ugandan government.

Instead, he has said Otti “is absent” and has also denied that there has been a new wave of executions, dismissing them as Ugandan government propaganda.

While Otti is thought to have executed a number of commanders, some are thought to have escaped. One who reportedly did so was Ceasar Achellam, and some suspect he is now leading the breakaway LRA faction.

Despite this backdrop of chaos, Rugunda told IWPR that he was still optimistic about the talks.

“We have made a lot of progress on [reconciliation and accountability] and we are now waiting to discuss agenda item four on implementation and a comprehensive ceasefire,” he said.

He and his team were to return to Juba this week.

But after more than one and a half years, and with endless distractions and delays, the enthusiasm that once characterised the peace process has begun to fade.

“President Yoweri Museveni has said this process cannot go on forever [and] the chief mediator, Riek Marchar, has said the process must end at sometime,” said Uganda’s army spokesman, Captain Paddy Akunda.

Akunda warned that an agreement between Museveni and his DRC counterpart, Joseph Kabila, to attack the rebels if the peace talks fail, remained an option.

Also unresolved are the outstanding International Criminal Court, ICC, indictments against Kony and his top commanders that were unsealed in October 2005, charging them with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Two of the commanders have died and the others remain at large.

“President Museveni and Kabila signed an agreement to deal with the LRA. That agreement was to be implemented by the 31st of January. Now that has passed,” said Ankunda, dismissing rebel claims that they could abandon the talks and still survive.

Museveni said recently that when he agreed to enter peace negotiations, rather than continue military action against Kony, he had offered the LRA a soft landing.

Apparently, the LRA is letting that option fall by the wayside.

Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi is the political editor of the Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala.

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