By Chris Ocowun
LORD'S Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony has given Vincent Ottiâ€™s personal satellite telephone to the rebel groupâ€™s chief signaller, Capt. Labalpiny.
â€œFrom our intelligence, we know that Otti (the vice-chairman of LRA/LRM) is dead and Kony removed his satellite phone and gave it to his signaller. For a month now, I have not been able to reach Otti on all his five numbers. The phones ring but no one answers them. Itâ€™s now Labalpiny communicating on Ottiâ€™s phone.
â€œKony should call Radio Mega and clear the air about the death of Otti to avoid anxiety and speculation,â€ Gulu resident district commissioner, Col. Walter Ochora, said yesterday.
Ochora has played a key role in building confidence between the Government and the rebels. He linked the government with Kony and other top LRA leaders. He organised and participated in meetings between the government and LRA leaders in Garamba, including the one between UN special envoy Joachim Chissano and the LRA. In a press briefing in Gulu yesterday, Ochora asked Kony to clear the air about Ottiâ€™s whereabouts.
â€œWe know that Otti is dead but it should not come from us. It should be them (the LRA) to announce that Otti is dead. According to the intelligence report I have, Maj. Gen. Acellam Caeser was arrested in June and one of the reasons is that he has been communicating with me.
â€œWe expect the LRA peace team to clear the air about the death of Otti as they come to consult the LRA victims about the peace talks. They should press Kony to clear the air about Otti during their consultation on the peace process.
â€œThey should clear the anxiety and rumours about the death of Otti,â€ Ochora added, stressing that Otti was not down with cholera as alleged by some members of the peace team. He said the Acholi were interested in peace and not rumours.
â€œIf Otti and the rest are still alive, they should be allowed to clear the air and speculations about their deaths because Otti has been crucial in the peace talks process.â€
He urged the peace team to consult and get the views of the people whose lips, ears and other body parts were cut off by the LRA rebels.
Yusuf Adek, one of the members of the LRA peace team based in Gulu, said their leader Martin Ojul and the rest of the peace team were expected in Gulu yesterday evening for the consultation to start today.
Military officials, quoting reports from rebel camps, told journalists over the weekend that Otti was executed in the LRA hideout in Garamba in DR Congo on the orders of Kony, following a disagreement on the Juba peace talks.
The LRAâ€™s former director of operations, Patrick Opiyo Makasi, told Sunday Vision that Otti was arrested by Kony on October 2, together with two other commanders; Acellam and Otim â€˜Recordâ€™. He revealed that Ottiâ€™s house was emptied of all property, his 33 fighters disarmed and taken to Konyâ€™s house and his wives put under guard. Makasi said the relations between Kony and Otti had deteriorated over the last one-and-a-half years.
The former LC3 chairman of Atiak sub-county where Otti hails from, George William Odong, said: â€œOtti used to call me frequently, at least monthly, to link him with his relatives, friends and local leaders to get views of people about the peace talks. But now since October, he has not called me again.â€
Odong, now the LC5 councillor representing persons with disabilities in Gulu district, said he connected Otti to his uncle, Ben Otim and his sister, Lamunu, who all went to meet him in Garamba.
â€œWe, the people of Atiak, together with the relatives of Otti, want Kony to come out with a confirmation report about the death of Otti because all we are hearing are rumours. Otti even failed to reply the SMS I sent to him in October, yet he used to call back so fast,â€ he lamented.
Odong added that since Otti had done a lot for the peace talks, he should be allowed to return home and be tried by the International Criminal Court, instead of being executed in the bush, where his body will not get a decent burial.
In 1995, Otti led a group of LRA rebels to Atiak, his own home village, and massacred hundreds of people.
He is one of the five top LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The others are Joseph Kony, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odiambo and Dominic Ongwen.
Kony is known to be intolerant to commanders who disagree with him.
In December 1999, he killed his army commander, Otti Lagony, after a long-running disagreement.
In 2003, he is reported to have ordered the execution of James Opoka, a former aide to FDC leader Kizza Besigye, whom he suspected of trying to take over the leadership of the LRA.