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Uganda rebels surrender after fight

Published: 11:05AM Sunday October 21, 2007 Source: Reuters

Eleven officers from Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebel group have surrendered to south Sudanese authorities after fleeing a battle between their two top commanders, the Ugandan army said on Friday.

Army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said he had reports from South Sudanese authorities and his defence minister, who was with them in its capital Juba, that the officers had fled LRA hideouts in east Congo to Sudan after a shootout on Wednesday.

The LRA, whose brutal 20-year war in northern Uganda killed tens of thousands and made two million people refugees, signed a ceasefire with Uganda last year but have refused to quit their jungle hideouts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We heard reports of some infighting ... as a result of which they scattered. Eleven officers surrendered in Maridi in western Sudan," Kulayigye said. The LRA were not immediately available for comment.

The Ugandan government and LRA representatives have been engaged in peace talks in Juba under south Sudanese mediation since last July, raising hopes of an end to one of Africa's longest wars.

The rebels gained notoriety for their cruel attacks on civilians during their insurgency - beating or burning villagers to death, slicing lips and limbs off victims and abducting children to use as fighters or sex slaves.

Although they have signed three phases of a five-point peace plan, progress has been slow. LRA leader Joseph Kony and three other top commanders are wanted for war crimes in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Kony and his deputy commander Vincent Otti have vowed never to come out unless the tribunal drops the indictments.

Kulayigye said a gunfight had broken out between rebels loyal to Kony and Otti - the first time the two have fallen out - causing them to split into at least two groups.

"It's a concern. We really want the LRA to be united for the sake of the Juba talks. Once they are divided, you are not clear who's who," he said.

An officer in the south Sudanese army, who declined to be named, said he could confirm the reports.

"Our intelligence sources say fighting broke out in Garamba (on the Sudan/Congo border). Kony seems to have the upper hand," he told Reuters. "A group surrendered to us."

Among the officers who turned themselves in was Caesar Acellam, a major general and one of the LRA's most senior commanders, Kulayigye said.

He added that if they were willing to lay down their arms, they would be offered an amnesty and be welcomed back to Uganda.