By Henry Mukasa
DEAD or alive, Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo ground troops are searching for LRA leader Joseph Kony in the Garamba jungles.
After an aerial bombardment of five of his camps on Sunday, which sent rebel commanders and fighters in disarray, the allied forces are advancing on rebel hideouts in the vast and dense forest.
Spokesperson for Operation Lightning Thunder Capt. Chris Magezi said yesterday the end of the LRA is around the corner.
â€œWe are on the ground,â€ he said. â€œWe are following him and his forces. We are advancing on his positions. Kony can run but he will soon run out of hiding places.â€
Magezi was non-committal on talk that Kony had escaped and was heading to the Central Africa Republic (CAR). â€œHe cannot fly to the Central Africa Republic in a minute,â€ he retorted. â€œThe game of hide-and-seek is over. The count-down (to his end) can begin.â€
Army spokesman Paddy Ankunda also indicated Kony was encircled.
â€œWe are now there together in Garamba. It used to be his home but our troops are there with him. That chase now starts,â€ Ankunda added.
On Monday, Magezi said: â€œThe pilots and aircraft did a good job. They hit the enemy camps. One of the camps, Camp Swahili, where Kony was said to be, was thumped thoroughly.â€
The first target of the raid was Konyâ€™s main camp nestled in the densely forested Garamba National Park. The camp is at the foot of a flat-topped hill, which is embraced by rocks, leaving one entrance.
A military source said anything could have happened to the hitherto elusive rebel chief who has waged a vicious war for at least 22 years.
Sources who spoke to Konyâ€™s deputy Okot Odhiambo said he sounded impatient, spoke in haste and admitted that â€œthings are bad.â€
The source added: â€œHe was in a hurry to hung up and told me that things were not good.â€
Odhiambo, according to the source, said the aerial bombardments took the rebels by surprise, scattering them and it was difficult to confirm casualties.
Security minister Amama Mbabazi and state minister for defence Ruth Nankabirwa yesterday briefed Parliament on the attack but said nothing about Konyâ€™s fate.
The ministers advised Kony, if still alive, to go to Ri-Kwangba, the designated assembly area under the peace agreement hammered in Juba in April.
Only in Ri-Kwangba will Kony be assured of safety, they said.
Kony thrice this year refused to sign the final peace agreement.
â€œThe aim (of the attack) is to force Joseph Kony to go to the assembly area and to sign the agreement,â€ Nankabirwa said.
The ministers also urged Kony to release all abducted children.
Describing the situation on the war front, Magezi said the first phase of the operation was over and the second phase of assault, cordon, search and destroy rebels had commenced.
â€œFor non-combatants (women, children and abductees) it will be cordon, search and rescue,â€ he said. A camp has been set up to receive rescued.
SPLA soldiers were manning the northern axis of the operation area, while the UPDF and Congolese army were on the southern axis. Besides, Magezi said, the army was on the alert in Koboko in West Nile.
Magezi said the details of damage inflicted on the rebel camps was not available.
â€œThis is a remote vast area. We are moving step-by-step.â€
The UPDF, Magezi added, had routed ADF rebels from the Rwenzori Mountain ranges and LRA from the north and South Sudan, which have hard terrain. He said the army would equally manage the difficult Garamba terrain.
Magezi said the targeted camps of Nyere, Fuke, Piripiri, Baoute and Bawesi had been destroyed and were desolate.
Rebel spokesperson David Nyekorach Matsanga yesterday insisted that Kony was still alive. He would neither deny nor confirm that the LRA had lost fighters in the attack.
â€œThe camps that were hit had people, but the military is not giving information now,â€ Matsanga said from Nairobi.
He said the commanders had abandoned their satellite phones because they believed the attacking troops were intercepting the calls and tracking them.
Alongside the military offensive, the allies yesterday launched a psychological war on the rebels. They dropped colourful flyers written in Acholi and English in the war zone, calling on the fighters to surrender.
Magezi said the measure was taken after the forces rescued six abductees. He said four Congelese, one Ugandan and a pregnant Central Africa Republic young girl were picked in the jungles. â€œThere are many abductees and fighters hiding in the jungles,â€ Magezi said.
Over 100,000 flyers had been delivered for distribution, Ankunda said.
â€œThey carry messages of peace. The war is over in the north and it is time for reconstruction and development. There are opportunities and schools for formerly abducted children,â€ Ankunda said.
â€œWe came here because of you. Give peace a chance and come home,â€ read one message. â€œYou have the blessing when you come home. Abandon conflict and turn to development,â€ read others.
â€œThe whole world cares about you. Use this chance to get out of the war.â€ â€œYour parents are still alive. They want you home alive too.â€
The messages will be backed by a radio programme dwog paco (come home). A similar programme is running on Mega FM in Gulu.
The designated reporting centres for the rebels include Nabanga in South Sudan, Dungu and Nzala in the DRC, Ri-Kwangba at the Sudan-DRC border; churches and army units.
Meanwhile, the UN Congo peace keepers head, Gen. Babacar Gaye, yesterday met overall commander Brig. Patrick Kankiriho and pledged support to the offensive.
Where is Kony?