Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rock and a hard place

No news is bad news.

Despite the flurry of stories over the past couple of days on the defection and pending surrender of Okot Odhiambo, the deputy commander of the Lord's Resistance Army, we have heard nothing in the past 48 hours.

A uniformed Odhiambo is pictured above in the lower center, with former LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti to the left, whom rebel commander Joseph Kony reportedly executed in October 2007.

I took this photo at a meeting between the LRA and former peace talks mediator Riek Machar in July 2006, not far from Kony's camp near the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Odhiambo is supposedly negotiating with the Ugandan army and reportedly is demanding the same amnesty that Uganda has given more the 20,000 former fighters with the LRA.

That's an astounding number of former soldiers, considering that Kony's army has probably never been more than one or two thousand, but gives you an idea of how many people have been abducted by his army and forced to kill their families, friends, relatives and thousands of other innocents.

But if Uganda does give Odhiambo and his unit of 45 fighters amnesty, it will be putting itself between a rock and hard place. Odhiambo has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity since 2005.

Uganda first went to the ICC in late 2003 and asked the ICC to get involved, and it did. Now it's up to Uganda to turn him over to the ICC, when and if they get him. Only Uganda is balking, saying it's going to keep Odhiambo in Uganda and put him on trial there, assuming they don't give him amnesty.

Considering that Odhiambo is said to have been behind some of the worst massacres committed by the LRA, as well as the recent killing of more than 200 people in one village alone in the DRC, it is hard to beleive that Uganda would give him amnesty.

Uganda put itself in this situation and must show a little backbone and moral strength.

Meanwhile, the deafening silence surrounding the Odhiambo announcement gives credence to the accusations that this is yet another ruse by the LRA to buy time and secure food and medical supplies.

Odhiambo is said to have been badly injured in either the initial strike on Kony's camps on December 14th, or in subsequent gun battles. The Ugandan army said it has captured huge supplies of food that the LRA has been storing and which it received from the international community, supposedly to keep them at the peace table. It didn't work.

The LRA has been on a rampage since then, killing nearly 900 people according to the latest count from the United Nations, and has forced 130,000 people to flee.

With their food supplies gone, the Ugandan army on their tail, and most of the people in the region gone, the LRA is going to be hard pressed for food and ammo.

So maybe this is a feint by Odhiambo. We shall soon see. Stay tuned.

No comments: