By Henry Mukasa
THE army has killed 305 Lord's Resistance Army fighters since it launched a joint military offensive on the rebel bases in Garamba in eastern Congo a year ago.
In a statement listing the UPDFâ€™s achievements since Operation Lightning Thunder was launched on December 14, 2008, the Ministry of Defence said another 41 rebels were captured while 52 fighters defected.
Over 513 abductees were rescued in the operation that was jointly conducted with the armies of Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The army pointed out that several commanders were either killed or captured, while others defected to UPDF reception points in the war zone. Those killed include â€˜Lt Colâ€™ Okello Yapee and â€˜Lt Colâ€™ Okuti, while â€˜Colâ€™ Thomas Kwoyelo was captured, the statement said.
Among those who defected were â€˜Lt Colâ€™ Charles Arop, â€˜Majâ€™ Joseph Okot Atiak, â€˜Captâ€™ Obali, â€˜Lieutenantsâ€™ Michael Ojok and Francis Opira, and Second Lieutenants Geoffrey Okwera, Onen Quinto and Christopher Ochora.
Under Operation Lightning Thunder, the UPDF and its allies attacked the LRA hideouts with helicopter gun-ships and Mig23 jet-fighters.
They pounded the rebel camps in Nyere, Fuke, Piripiri, Baoute and Bawesi in Garamba National Park. The main camp, code-named Swahili, was destroyed, according to the army.
The operation, commanded by Brig. Patrick Kankiraho, was backed by the air force, paratroopers and infantry.
The army said it recovered 257 sub-machineguns and rifles, two pistols, four tins of SMG ammunition and three tins of PK machinegun ammunition.
Other items recovered during the operation included eight laptops, one printer, five satellite phones, three global position systems and twelve mobile phones.
In addition, the joint forces seized 11 solar panels, four generators, four tents, 16 batteries, 14 pairs of camouflage uniforms and four life jackets.
Kulaigye said the rebelsâ€™ command structure was depleted and they ran out of combat weaponry.
â€œThe LRAâ€™s capacity to create havoc is no more. Thatâ€™s why the alleged threat of Christmas attacks on the Congolese, as announced by some NGOs, was empty,â€ he commented.
â€œThey are looking for a safe haven where they can train, re-organise and start to create terror again.â€
Last week, the army in Southern Sudan announced that the rebels have reached Darfur and are regrouping.
The SPLA spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Kuol Diem Kuol, said the rebels have established training camps in southern Darfur with support from Khartoum.
â€œThere is Sudanese army and they still are having this connection.
In fact LRA is re-grouping and gaining intensive training in Sudan. They are training in Dimo in southern Darfur. This fact is known to the intelligence community,â€ Maj. Gen. Kuol stated in the Sudan Tribune on December 23.
Last month, former LRA director of operations Charles Arop told The New Vision that LRA leader Joseph Kony had ordered his troops to move to Darfur and report to the first Sudanese army detachment to get protection and logistical support.
The Sudan Government through its Kampala embassy, however, denied it continues to assist the LRA.
Meanwhile, a new UN report released yesterday outlines a series of attacks carried out over a ten-month period, during which the LRA killed at least 1,200 people, abducted 1,400, including some 600 children, and displaced around 230,000 people.
â€œThese attacks and systematic and widespread human rights violations carried out by the LRA may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,â€ the report says.
It echoes a second report, also issued yesterday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on a similar pattern of LRA attacks in neighbouring Southern Sudan.
The second report documents 30 LRA attacks between December 2008 and March 2009 in which at least 81 civilians were killed, 74 abducted and 11 villages pillaged.