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Uganda's hunt for Kony

March 30, 2017

The Ugandan army says the search for fugitive Lord’s Resistance Army warlord Joseph Kony will continue despite the US withdrawing its forces. Uganda’s military also hailed the surrender of a senior LRA commander.

Ugandische Truppen jagen LRA im Kongo 2009
Image: DW/S. Schlindwein

Richard Karemire, Ugandan military spokesman, said on Thursday that his country was thankful for the support offered by the US in efforts to arrest and defeat Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. In 2011, the US deployed around 100 Special Forces as advisors to the Ugandan army.

However, the US Africa Command has now issued a statement saying it will end its participation in the mission because in its view, the LRA had been weakened to irrelevance. The US said it will instead transition to "broader scope security and stability activities that continue the success of our African partners."

Infographic showing areas where the LRA The Lord’s Resistance Army is active in Africa.
Military sources say the LRA has split into smaller groups and mostly operates in the Central African Republic and the DRC.

Sokesman Karemire said he disagrees with the US in their characterization of Kony as "irrelevant." The hunt for Kony has cost the US around $800 million (744 million euros) since 2011. Kony's LRA has killed more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children since its formation in 1987, according to the United Nations.

Another victory against LRA?

Meanwhile, the Ugandan government has hailed the surrender of a senior commander of the Lord's Resistance Army. Major Michael Omona was in charge of communication for LRA leader Joseph Kony. Omona, 35, was abducted by the LRA at the age of 12. He later rose through the ranks to become the rebel group's top radio operator, specifically in charge of handling Kony's communications.

"I was kidnapped in 1994 and I was taken to the bush, after sometime we came to Central African Republic but I managed to communicate with a friend of mine called Ochwe and I would tell him where I was all the time and I believe that’s why I am still alive today," Omona told reporters. "In the bush, I was in the department of signals from 1995 until 2017."

23 years after he was kidnapped, Omona returned to his hometown of Gulu after handing himself over to US Special Forces in the Central African Republic. "Having him weakens the command and control of the LRA because communication is a major component in command and control of the military, even if it is a ragtag force like the LRA," Karemire said.

World in Progress: LRA commander on trial

He said the surrender of another top commander of the LRA was an indication that the psychological operation of dropping leaflets calling on the rebels to renounce banditry and come out of hiding, was effective. "It shows we [the military] are winning."

Amnesty versus justice

A government amnesty introduced in 2004, which was meant to encourage those in hiding to surrender has pardoned more than 12,000 former LRA rebels who were once kidnapped by the gunmen and later joined their ranks.

Margaret Ajok, a senior advisor at the Ugandan Ministry of Justice, told DW, the amnesty program should now move to involve the victims. "We should have an accountable amnesty, an amnesty which allows people to seek for forgiveness from persons who feel that they violated them," Ajok said.

She said those who seek forgiveness and are later granted an amnesty certificate after being pardoned by the victims find it easier to re-integrate back into the community.

Dominic Ongwen, a former Kony top lieutenant, who like Omona, was also once a child soldier, surrendered in January 2015. He became the first member of the LRA to go on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Kony is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.

cm/sh (AFP/AP)