GULU- The Uganda People’s Defence Forces in Gulu District are holding a renowned Lira street preacher, Jorom Opio, on allegations of recruiting Ugandan youth into the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement -in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), a rebel group in South Sudan.
The pastor was arrested a fortnight ago from his home in Lira Town during a joint operation by the UPDF 4th Division intelligence unit and the Police Flying Squad.
Currently, the rebel group is fighting to overthrow president Salva Kiir’s government.
The conflict has displaced more than 40,000 people who are living in refugee settlement centres of Palabek- Kal, Palabek-Gem and Palabek Ogili, all in Lamwo District.
According to a source in security that declined to be named, Opio had been boasting and making careless utterances in regard to his role in the South Sudan insurgency besides coning and intimidating his victims.
“We have credible clues and evidence that he has been recruiting our youth especially in northern Uganda to fight for SPLM-O,” the source said.
The UPDF 4th Division commander, Brig Emmanuel Kanyesigye, confirmed that they have the suspect in their custody.
“It is true we have him here. Imagine (our very own) putting himself to be a rebel leader in South Sudan and recruiting our sons to fight in a war they don’t know, you can see how funny and dangerous it is to our security,” he said.
“We are planning to hand him over to CMI to take charge of him,” he added.
Late last year, Pastor Opio was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to represent SPLM-IO rebels in negotiating a peace deal during the South Sudan peace talks between President Kiir’s government and the rebels that ended with the cessation of hostilities.
His presence and role in the peace negotiations raised a lot of suspicion in Ugandan security circles about who Pastor Opio was. It is alleged that the pastor is at the rank of a brigadier in the rebel group.
“We are very much interested in knowing his role in the South Sudan war, what he does and how he started and also how many he has recruited. We know he is part of, and commands the South Sudan rebel group. He recently mediated on behalf of the rebels in the South Sudan peace talks,” Brig Kanyesigye said.
In his hometown, besides being a pastor, Mr Opio is known to be a staunch NRM supporter.
He has been a lead campaigner of almost all the NRM flag bearers in Lango Sub region and he frequently defends the NRM government on radio talk shows.
His wife Lucy Opio, however, is demanding the immediate release of her husband claiming that he works for government.
“He has to be released because he has been doing all these things for government. If he is not released, I am carrying all my children and will dump them at police so that government can take care of them,” she said.
Links. The Gulu Resident District Commissioner, Capt (Rtd) Santo Okot Lapolo, admitted without elaborating that there were links between Pastor Opio and State House.
Crimes. He, however, revealed that Pastor Opio has severally been accused of coning and stealing from the community.