Another key member of the Lord’s Resistance Army surrenders
Africa | The United States says it will withdraw from the international manhunt
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/31/17, 11:19 am
The Ugandan military on Thursday said an aide to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Joseph Kony had surrendered to officials. The move comes a day after the United Sates said it is pulling out of the mission fighting the “dramatically weakened group.”
The Uganda-born rebel group is responsible for killing thousands of people across central Africa and using abducted children as soldiers and slaves.
Michael Omona, who served as Kony’s chief communications officer, surrendered to Ugandan forces in the Central African Republic. Maj. Kiconco Tabaro, the Ugandan military’s deputy spokesman, said Omona’s surrender “shows the degraded capacity” of the rebel group. The LRA abducted Omona in 1994, and he worked his way up to his last position.
The United States Africa Command said the LRA has weakened in both numbers and overall effectiveness. Kony remains in hiding, but the joint U.S. and Ugandan forces have captured the majority of the group’s key leaders, the command said in a statement. The U.S. mission will transition to “broader scope security and stability activities.”
“Military operations combined with robust efforts by civilian agencies and nongovernmental organizations have resulted in defections, the capture of key LRA leaders, and decreased threats to civilian populations,” the statement said.
LRA began in Uganda in the 1980s before extending into Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebel group has killed more than 100,000 people and abducted some 60,000 children, mostly used as child soldiers and slaves, according to the United Nations. The International Criminal Court has indicted Kony for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dominic Ongwen, one of the group’s former commanders, is currently on trial and facing up to 70 counts, including attacks against civilians, murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, enslavement, and torture.
The guerrilla group, which used to have about 2,000 fighters, now has less than 100 active members, according to the U.S. Africa Command. In 2011, the United States deployed about 100 special forces to play an advisory role and offer intelligence assistance to the Ugandan military in defeating the group. By 2014, the United States added another 150 Air Force special operations fighters. The U.S. Defense Department has spent more than $780 million on the mission.
Ugandan army spokesman Brig. Richard Karemire said the country is thankful for the United States’ support over the years, but insisted that Kony will be a cause for concern as long as he is alive.
Ledio Cakaj, an expert on the LRA, described the U.S. withdrawal as a huge setback in fully defeating the rebel group. Cakaj said the mission is still unfinished as the LRA continues to stage near-daily attacks in Congo and the Central African Republic despite the significant decrease in its numbers.
“I think it’s important that the Ugandan forces finish the job,” he said. “I don’t know with what capacity and what financial means the Ugandan army would continue to pursue the LRA.”
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.