From the Monitor
Kampala by Rodney Muhumuza 23 December 2008:
President Yoweri Museveni has said at least four battalions of Ugandan troops are closing in on Joseph Kony in DR Congo’s forested Garamba area, over a week after a joint force bombarded the rebel leader’s camps and forced him to flee.
Mr Museveni, who described the attack as very successful, said the reclusive rebel leader may have escaped because he acquired a gadget that he used to monitor the radio conversations of the pilots manning the helicopter gunships.
“We found that there was a manual of a certain gadget Kony may have used to monitor the radio conversations of the pilots,” Mr Museveni told a press conference in Kampala yesterday. “We captured the manual but we did not capture the gadget itself. The gadget only becomes useful if the pilots do not maintain radio silence.”
Mr Museveni, who regretted that his government spent time negotiating peace with the Lord’s Resistance Army, said the UPDF would seek to block Kony from crossing into the Central African Republic, where his troops have sometimes sneaked to recruit and cause havoc.
“The force on the western side of Garamba has detected a group of 100 fighters trying to go to the Central African Republic,” Mr Museveni said. “We shall get them before they go there.”
Mr Museveni said the operation had been successful despite delays in putting the ground forces into action.
Ugandan commandos entered Garamba last Tuesday, two days after the initial assault.
Although there have been no casualties from the attack, Mr Museveni said yesterday that LRA fighters may have returned to bury their dead. “It was a very successful operation…we attacked Kony’s main camp and devastated it,” Mr Museveni said.
“Kony only understands one language--- the language of the gun.”
Kony, indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, in April refused to sign a peace deal negotiated under the mediation of the South Sudan government.
Kony has said he will not sign the peace deal until the ICC withdraws arrest warrants for him and his top lieutenants.
The offensive on Garamba, where Kony had be holed up for nearly three years, was the first direct confrontation between the UPDF and the LRA since a ceasefire agreement was signed in August 2006.
“I don’t think that it was ever correct to beg Kony for peace as some groups were doing,” Mr Museveni said. “We had no other option but to act against these criminal acts.”
A section of Acholi elders, reacting to the offensive, said aerial bombardment of the LRA camps was the wrong tactic against a rebel group that still holds many women and children, most of them forcibly recruited.
Mr Museveni said yesterday he had asked the Police to examine whether the recent statements of MPs Reagan Okumu and Livingstone Okello-Okello, who claimed that the allied forces had hit empty camps, were not potentially criminal.
Mr Museveni suggested that the Ugandan contingent would stay in Garamba for an extended period as it tries to capture or kill Kony.
“If Kony tried to settle in any other region, he would be exposed to more danger than in Garamba,” he said. “I would like to assure Ugandans that this is the end of Kony as the terrorist of Uganda… As an old fighter, I wouldn’t want to be in Kony’s position. The combined operations are about to decimate him.”
Meanwhile, the LRA yesterday set new demands for talks with the government and called for a ceasefire.
Addressing a press conference in Nairobi, the leader of the LRA peace delegation, Mr David Nyekorach Matsanga, said the LRA will not go back to Juba for the completion of the talks and signing of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA).
He added LRA want a different person other than vice President of South Sudan, Dr Riek Machar, to chair the talks.
If possible, Dr Matsanga said, a UN appointed envoy should take over the process as Dr Machar “has lost credibility to mediate in the conflict.”
He termed Dr Machar as a traitor especially after the Sunday attacks. Mr Matsanga said the UN appointed envoy should report directly to the UN Security Council at every step made.
The rebel group demanded the inclusion of Sant. E-Gideo, an international NGO in Northern Uganda in the peace talks.