RIVER VOVODO, Central African Republic (Reuters) - Uganda has captured one of the top five members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, bringing it a step closer to catching Joseph Kony, the notorious rebel leader accused of war crimes, the military said on Sunday.
The Ugandan army said it caught Caesar Achellam, a major general in Kony’s outfit of about 200 fighters, in an ambush along the banks of the River Mbou in Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday.
Achellam was armed with just an AK-47 rifle and eight rounds of ammunition, a spokesman for the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), said. He was being held with his wife, a young daughter and a helper.
The UPDF, which has a force hunting for Kony full-time in the jungles of CAR, backed by U.S. troops, said the capture of Achellam would encourage other fighters to abandon the LRA.
“The arrest of Major General Caesar Achellam is big progress because he is a big fish,” said UPDF spokesman Felix Kulaigye. “His capture is definitely going to cause an opinion shift within the LRA.”
Achellam, who was paraded before media, walked with a limp, which he attributed to an old wound. He was returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo when he walked into the soldiers’ ambush. UPDF said it had been on his trail for a month.
Analysts said Achellam was a close ally of Kony and had masterminded the group’s relocation from northern Uganda.
“From whichever angle you look at it, the loss of Achellam should be very troubling for Kony and a big boost for his manhunt,” said Angelo Izama, an analyst who has written extensively on the LRA.
Kony, a self-styled mystic leader who at one time wanted to rule Uganda according to the biblical Ten Commandments, fled northern Uganda in 2005, roaming first the lawless expanses of South Sudan, then the isolated northeastern tip of Congo.
In December 2008, Uganda launched Operation Lightning Thunder against the LRA, dispersing the rebels and pushing them north into CAR.
The rebels live in the jungles of CAR surviving on wild yams, stolen cattle and drinking from rivers.
The International Criminal Court at The Hague has issued arrest warrants for Kony and his top commanders for several counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, although Achellam is not among those charged by the ICC.
Kony is accused of abducting children to use as fighters and sex slaves and is said to have a fondness for hacking off limbs.
A 30-minute YouTube video by California-based film-maker Jason Russell calling for the arrest of Kony swept across the Internet in March, attracting tens of millions of views, bringing the LRA’s atrocities to the attention of many people previously unaware of the group’s existence.
The Ugandan government, the African Union and the United States all stepped up their commitment to the hunt for Kony in the wake of the outrage caused by the video, “Kony 2012”.
Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Robin Pomeroy