The gangly man standing with his hands in the air next to a womanclutching a baby and a teenage girl was Maj. Gen. Ceasar Acellam,and for the Ugandan Army this was a major coup. Up until that point on Saturday morning, Acellam was thethird-highest ranking commander in vicious warlord Joseph Kony'srebel outfit. Now he had become the highest-ranking officer in the LRA's 25-yearinsurgency ever to be captured alive. |
Yesterday I did meet a group that was there on a mission, alaconic Acellam told a small group of journalists who had beenflown by the Ugandan Army to its forward base at Djema on Sunday. I knew I was in the hands of the [Ugandan Army]. Who is Acellam? Recruited in 1988, just one year after Kony launched his armedinsurgency to overthrow the Ugandan government and impose thebiblical Ten Commandments, Acellam rose to become the LRA'sintelligence chief and one of Mr. Kony's key deputies.
An erudite man he referenced The Art of War in response toone journalist's question Acellam claimed he had left his groupof 30, including 14 fighters, in Congo several days earlier andwas, anyway, on his way to hand himself over to the Ugandan Army. As the Ugandan commanders sitting around him talked up hissignificance, he tried to play down his importance. He'd ceasedbeing a key figure after being shot in 2002, he said. He was only asector commander, he claimed. But even if his influence has waned, he had to admit that hiscapture would send shock waves through the LRA.
My coming out will have a big impact for the people in the bushto come out and end the war soon, Acellam said. Acellam's capture could see the LRA suffer more than just a hit toits morale, analysts say, and could help the Ugandan Army locateKony. I think his capture will help the anti-LRA operations becausehe'll have the most up-to-date analysis of where specific LRAgroups and commanders are, what their future plans and strategiesare, and exactly how the LRA command structure has evolved in thepast year, Paul Ronan, cofounder of US-based advocacy groupResolve says. Acellam is also an Arabic speaker and has acted as a key liaisonbetween the LRA and its former backer the Sudanese government,Mr. Ronan says.
Now he could also help answer the thorny question of whetherKhartoum has restarted its support for Kony. Will he talk? And the Ugandan Army might be hopeful of getting their wily formeradversary to talk. Acellam reportedly fell out with Kony during a bout of infightingaround 2007 that saw Kony execute his then-deputy Vincent Otti, andit was rumored repeatedly that Acellam was ready to defect. But he did not.
The Ugandan government will have to offer something most likely guaranteeing Acellam amnesty under a blanket lawcovering former-rebels, says Angelo Izama, an independent Ugandananalyst. They'll have to give him some kind of deal in return forcooperation, Mr. Izama says. Unlike Kony, and his two most influential commanders, Okot Odhiamboand Dominic Ongwen, Acellam is not wanted by the InternationalCriminal Court for war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Remaining questions In the confusion and contradictions of the immediate aftermath ofAcellam's capture, however, questions remain. Did Acellam defect or was he captured? Where are his fighters? Howmuch does he know? But top of the list for those in the United States is: What roledid US Special Forces play in Acellam's capture? Late last year President Obama deployed around 100 US SpecialForces to the area to bolster the regional efforts to capture theLRA. Now they're flying high-tech surveillance planes over the vastjungles and trying to improve the Ugandans' intelligencecoordination and logistics. Both US officials and Ugandan commanders refuse to talk aboutwhether the US forces had a part in Acellam's capture. But the fact that Acellam and his group had been monitored forweeks prior in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Ugandanforces do not have access suggests some sort of outside help.
Now with the combination of US help, Ugandan footwork, andAcellam's intelligence, observers agree that there have been fewbetter opportunities to end the LRA threat. But after 25 years inthe bush, in the vast jungles of central Africa, Kony remains amaster of evasion.
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