Nineteen rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army-LRA have reportedly surrendered in the Central African Republic, Ben Keesey, the Executive Director Invincible Children has disclosed.
Keesey says the group comprising of nine adult males, four females and six children defected on December 06 near the Zemio community.
He explains that six of the nine males are Ugandans, including a lieutenant and a lieutenant colonel, representing a severe blow to the LRA’s strength and command structure. He says this is the single largest LRA defection since the group moved into central Africa in 2008.
Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, the UPDF spokesperson confirmed the development to local media this morning. He says the army was preparing to bring the defectors back home. Adam Finck, the Invisible Children’s Director of International Programs says a defection of this size represents a significant portion of the LRA’s remaining fighting force.
He says this is a huge win for the African Union forces, along with the U.S. advisers and civil society groups working to restore peace in the region.
Invisible Children considers this as an enormous victory for the African Union led efforts to counter-LRA. The group’s leader, Lieutenant Colonel Okello Okutti was abducted by the LRA in 1989 and had risen to prominence within the group over the past 24 years. According to Keesey, a civilian from Tabane village, about 20 km west of Zemio was approached by the defected group while fishing on the bank of a river. He said the nineteen LRA came out with their weapons over their heads and called out to the fisherman in Swahili.
They explained to the fisherman that they were LRA and wanted to defect, then asked him to take them to the nearest Ugandan military detach.
He said the fisherman demonstrated great bravery by taking them across the river in his boat to his village. The LRA waited just outside of town while the fisherman reported the information to Invisible Children’s Early Warning Network operator in the area who immediately called the incident into the Early Warning Network hub in Obo, CAR.
He said the Invisible Children’s Obo team alerted the UPDF who quickly dispatched a helicopter to receive the LRA group and took them to Obo where they immediately received treatment and are being taken care of waiting to return back home.