By Raymond Baguma
Ten religious, cultural and opinion leaders from northern Uganda early this week travelled to LRA affected areas of Central African Republic (CAR) to encourage more LRA defections and receive rebel fighters willing to surrender.
During the visit, the delegation will also hold discussions with cultural, religious and civic leaders. The follows reports of defections within LRA, as well as the need to assurances of safety for those willing to surrender.
The leaders in CAR on include the Acholi paramount chief Onen David Rwot Achana, and Sheik Musa Khelil the vice chairperson of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, retired Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola of Kitgum diocese and Norbert Mao the DP chairperson and former Gulu municipality MP.
Others include Reagan Okumu the chairperson of the Acholi Parliamentary Group and Aswa County MP, Martin Ojara Mapenduzi the Gulu district chairman and Santa Okot the former Pader Woman MP. Also on the team is former LRA commander Caesar Acellam.
The visit organized by the nongovernmental organization Invisible Children, is part of activities planned by the NGO’s “Come Home” campaign.
Under the campaign, the NGO is disseminating messages encouraging LRA fighters in DR Congo, South Sudan, and CAR to abandon rebellion defection during the coming Christmas festive season. The visit by local leaders also comes after a recent defection of 19 LRA fighters earlier this month.
Jolly Grace Okot, the Invisible Children Regional Ambassador said the leaders would show solidarity with communities that remain vulnerable to LRA atrocities in DRC and CAR.
“Some communities currently targeted by the LRA violence in neighboring countries perceive Ugandan society as indifferent to their suffering. As a result, they have associated Ugandans at large with the LRA as co-perpetrators of the heinous atrocities inflicted upon their communities.”
Okot added, “We hope this visit will demystify such false beliefs and reassure the affected communities that the LRA wasn’t sent to their countries by Ugandans. It’s also part of our continuous engagement until the LRA crisis is finally resolved.”
“We also believe that some LRA may want to surrender but fear, so hearing that leaders in northern Uganda are there, would reassure them to come out,” she noted.