By Frank Mugabi
CONDITIONS in the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel camps in the DR Congo have deteriorated, leaving many of the fighters eager to surrender, rebels who surrendered to the army said recently.
According to Lt. Francis Opira, one of the nine returnees, the Uganda, Sudan and DR Congo joint anti-insurgency operations that were launched about a year ago, have left the rebels in unco-ordinated small groups.
â€œLife has become so hard. We are few, which forces us to do a lot of work. Walking in the long bushes has also become tiresome,â€ Opira said during an interview at the UPDF 409 Brigade headquarters in Arua town on Sunday.
The remaining fighters are like hostages, he added, because if it is realised that you want to escape, you are killed on the spot.
Opira, who was abducted at the age of 15 in 1995 from his home village of Ogole in Pader district while heading to school, was grateful for the kind reception they had been accorded by the UPDF.
â€œI am surprised that we came out and so far nothing bad has happened to us. I urge my colleagues remaining behind to surrender because they will be safe,â€ he said.
The returnees, who include three women, two children and five officers, surrendered to Congolese security forces near Aba and Faradje after fleeing their bases last week.
They deposited their arms and ammunition at the UPDF bases in Congo.
The returnees originated from two LRA camps, one headed by Lt. Col. Arop and former brigade commander, Okello Kalalang. Kalalangâ€™s youngest wife, Stella Acan, is among those who fled.
Kalalang, who was said to be a merciless commander, was killed in a September bombardment against the rebels in the Central African Republic.
Acan said she was the last of four wives to leave the jungle following the death of their husband.
The West Nile army spokesman, Capt. Peter Mugisa, identified the returnees as Lt. Michael Ojok from Awad-lera village in Gulu, Sgt. Dennis Okwaya from Panokrach in Amuru and 14-year-old Simon Ocilo, from Ojama in Amuria.
Sgts. Anthony Olanya of Omia village and Francis Tolit of Dure village, in Kitgum district also surrendered.
Pauline Adoch from Akoyo village in Gulu and Alice Amony from Omia-Pacua village in Pader, who carried a nine-month-old baby, also returned.
All the nine former-rebels who underwent custodial debriefing narrated shocking stories of how they were abducted and forcefully enrolled into LRA.
Adoch said she was in Primary Seven when she was abducted, Acan said she was in Primary Four while Amony was only 10 years old and she was abducted as she went to fetch water in 2001.
The 14-year-old Ocilo recalls that he was in Primary Two at Ogwarat Primary School in Amuria district when the rebels found him alone at home over a weekend.
The 409 brigade commander, Lt. Col. Martin Dede, said this was the second batch of fighters to surrender in about one week. He attributed it to the immense pressure the rebels are facing.
Last week, three rebels, including a 16-year-old combatant and an officer, surrendered to the UPDF in Congo.
Dede promised that the Government would deal leniently with those who give up rebel activity.