By Raymond Baguma
The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) will grant safe passage and will not attack defecting fighters of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who are surrendering to the United Nations (UN).
This comes after the UN on Monday confirmed a decision by over 1,200 LRA fighters operating in the east of Central African Republic (CAR) to abandon rebellion.
The UN in a statement on Monday said it was sending a delegation to Bria, in CAR to investigate the reports of a possible large defection and disarmament of a group within the LRA.
A UN mission comprising of the UN Integrated Bureau for Peace Consolidation in CAR (BINUCA) led by Gen. Babacar Gueye is to travel to Nzako, where LRA fighters have started handing over their weapons to the authorities.
But Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Katumba Wamala said although it is not the first time LRA has offered to abandon rebellion, Uganda will wait to see their resolve when they come out.
“It’s not the first time. We will not attack them if they come out to surrender to UN. We will be saving lives. If this is happening, we shall not oppose them,” said Gen. Katumba.
Presently, the UPDF is in areas of CAR under the four-member AU Regional Taskforce against LRA comprising of LRA-affected countries of South Sudan, CAR and DR Congo.
However, this anti-LRA operation is in a lull following an impasse over the legality of the Seleka junta which deposed President Francoise Bozize. The African Union consequently suspended Central African Republic’s members in the continental body.
The defections come in wake of reports that Kony issued orders to execute disobedient commanders, marginalize older commanders as well as the harvest elephant ivory.
Also, many Ugandan fighters who make up the core of the LRA are disillusioned by the difficulty of life in the forests, with pressure mounted by UPDF and the US military advisers.
Gen. Katumba said the LRA surrender en masse, could be a result of tough living conditions in CAR jungles, and the realization that those who have surrendered in the past have received good treatment.
Also, the defections could be attributed to the “Come Home” messages broadcast from helicopters, FM radios and dropping of leaflets to LRA fighters in the jungles.
Kony and his top commanders are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. A report published by The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative in July this year said that Kony was operating in the Kafia Kingi enclave, which is a disputed area under the control of the Sudan Armed Forces.
Yesterday, the international children NGO Invisible Children in a statement said the imminent large defection is an incredible step forward in dismantling the LRA, and a victory for victims.