News and Views
Uganda Army captures Kony’s top general in ambush
The captured Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) field commander, Caesar Acellam, yesterday said he felt a “free” man leaving rebellion after spending more than two decades fighting on the side of wanted warlord Joseph Kony.
“I feel free now after 24 years in the bush,” he told journalists that the UPDF airlifted to Djema, Central African Republic, yesterday.
The Ugandan military described Acellam, a Major General in the bush, as a “big catch” and the highest ranking LRA commander to be held since 1987.
He was arrested on the banks of River Mbou in Central African Republic as he crossed with his family from the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Col. Abdu Rugumayo, the UPDF Intelligence Officer in charge of the counter-LRA operation.
Other top rebel commanders that have either been killed by, or surrendered, to the UPDF include ‘Brig.’ Sam Kolo; a former LRA spokesman, ‘Brig.’ Kenneth Banya, ‘Col.’ Alfred Onen Kamdulu and LRA fourth-in-command Thomas Kwoyelo captured in 2009.
“This is a big fish,” said UPDF Spokesman Col. Felix Kulayigye. “By reaching the rank of a Major General, it shows he was not digging potatoes. He was a serious commander.”
At the time of his reported capture on Saturday, Acellam was the field commander for LRA, placing him at the apex of executing the rebel group’s operations.
He previously served as LRA’s Military Intelligence chief, but Kony stripped him of the responsibility after UPDF soldiers in 2002 injured him in the right leg inside South Sudan during Operation Iron Fist.
The militaries of Uganda, South Sudan, DRC and CAR have been working together since the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008, but are yet to capture or kill their biggest catch, LRA leader Joseph Kony.
President Barack Obama last October authorised deployment of about 100 US Special Forces to collate intelligence using high-tech gadgets, and act as field military advisers to the regional armies, to effect the elimination of the LRA.
Five LRA commanders, including Kony, were indicted by the International Criminal Court that issued warrants of arrest in 2005, although they remain at large. Acellam was not one of the indictees.
News of his capture would be a heart-break to Kony since he is likely to spill details of the insurgent group’s formation, recruitment and operation plan as well as whereabouts of its senior commanders that UPDF troops are hunting down in the DRC and CAR jungles.
Analysts say the taking of LRA’s de facto ‘Number Three’ into custody is likely to weaken Kony’s hand over his fighters further, encourage more defections and buoy the regional manhunt for the fugitives who spread their terror simultaneously in three countries..
President Obama’s outline to implement the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act that he signed into law in May, 2010, provides for increased military and diplomatic pressure on LRA as well as encouraging defections and providing protection to civilians in LRA affected places.
Col. Kulayigye declined to say if Acellam would be granted pardon, saying that is the mandate of the Amnesty Commission. At the time of his capture, Acellam, strangely had no guards.
He told journalists he left some 30 of his escorts in DRC, and they were to follow him.
Ugandan military officials prevented journalists from probing Acellam on grounds that would unravel information likely to undermine the ongoing regional effort to rout Kony.
The captured LRA commander, walking with a limp arising from injuries suffered in battle 10 years ago, was donning a South Sudan Liberation Army military fatigue and looked healthy.
He was last evening flown from CAR to Nzara, the tactical headquarters of both the UPDF and designated African Union special force on LRA.
Officials shortly afterwards took him to a nearby military health facility.
There was no immediate word on when Acellam could be repatriated to Uganda.