Uganda: Ayoo Denies
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has denied the existence of a simmering row between its leader Joseph Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti, in the wake of unconfirmed reports of the latter's death.
In an exclusive interview with The EastAfrican in Nairobi, LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo blamed Uganda President Yoweri Museveni's government and individuals opposed to the Juba peace talks for fuelling rumours to the effect that Kony and Otti have fallen out over funds given to the movement for consultative talks.
"There is no fight between the two and there are no factions within the LRA. In any case, the money was not meant for them as individuals but for an exercise that both of them have welcomed. We are going for the consultative talks as one united team, with chairman Martin Ojul leading the delegation," Ayoo told The EastAfrican.
Early last week, a section of the Ugandan media reported that the two had gone their separate ways following differences of opinion on the direction the Juba peace talks should take.
The reports further said that an October 10 clash between Kony and Otti resulted in the surrender of three senior LRA commanders loyal to Otti at the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) camp in Maridi, Southern Sudan.
Quoting Ugandan army spokesman Major Felix Kulaigye, the reports said the commanders arrived in Maridi after trekking for days from Garamba Forest, the LRA's base in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo base.
But according to Ayoo, the chairman of the LRA delegation to the Juba peace talks, Martin Ojul, boarded an aircraft to Maridi in the company of other peace delegates. The delegates were going to discuss their travel itineraries to Uganda and other logistics.
Upon landing in Maridi, the SPLA soldiers refused them entry to their hotel and instead took them to the military camp.
They were only released upon the intervention of the base commander. But no LRA soldier ever surrendered to the SPLA.
"We have every reason to believe that the Ugandan government had a hand in the act. The soldiers who abducted our team must have acted on instructions from people opposed to our going to Uganda for a consultative process," said Ayoo.
He said the government of Uganda has never wanted the LRA to return to the country, especially the north.
"The government has never wanted the LRA delegation to travel inside the country. It will, therefore, do anything within its means to ensure that our consultative process does not succeed," he said.
He said it was unfortunate that the SPLA soldiers violated the UN Geneva Convention, which stipulates that people engaged in peace talks should be treated as diplomats.
On Opiyo Makasi, the top LRA commander who recently surrendered to the UN forces in Congo (Monuc), Ayoo said it was still difficult to prove that he deserted, as he has not spoken out.
"It is also difficult to tell the world that he was captured. Only the soldiers in the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team can confirm this. We appeal to UN Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano to have the soldier returned to his base in the spirit of the peace process, as we have not violated the ceasefire agreement," Ayoo said. But he added that if Makasi chose to quit, then it was nothing new in the history of war.
He, however, maintained that Makasi's departure does not in any way threaten the existence of the movement, "even as the Ugandan government thumps its chest, celebrating an imminent falling out in the LRA's top leadership.
"The LRA is still committed to peace and there is no clash in the hierarchy. We won't permit anyone to drag us to war and we call on the international community to impress upon Museveni that Juba remains the only forum to achieve peace," Ayoo said.
As we went to press, the LRA delegation, including top commanders, had landed in Entebbe for the first time in 20 years.
They were received by Ugandan government officials.
Peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA began in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba in July 2006.
Seen as the best chance to end the 21-year-old insurgency in northern Uganda, the talks, have, however, been mired in disputes.
The LRA walked out of the peace talks in January, citing various concerns. It took the intervention of Chissano and the African Union to persuade the LRA to return to the negotiation table.
Chissano chaired two meetings in March and one more in April, all at Ri-Kwangba, on the DRC-Southern Sudan border, with a view to resolving the stalemate and saving the peace talks from collapse.
Prior to the walkout, the LRA delegates said they feared for their security and that of their soldiers in Southern Sudan.
Conflict, Peace and Security
They claimed that strange, armed men were roaming their hotel compound, while the SPLA soldiers who were supposed to provide them with security were often drunk and occasionally brandished weapons at each other.
The LRA delegates also demanded an increase in their daily allowance from $70 to $300 per delegate.
They were each awarded an increment of $50 to cater for satellite phone airtime.