Monday May 14 2012

Was Acellam captured or did he surrender?

By Tabu Butagira & Risdel Kasasira

They waited for him on target for two weeks, taking a battering from falling rains. And when the sun rebelled, the searing temperatures broke on their bodies beads of sweat.

Yet the UPDF soldiers, like a cat timing a mouse, lay discreet in the bushes, unrelenting.

This is how Col. Abdu Rugumayo, the UPDF Intelligence Officer for the counter-LRA efforts, described the final tense moments as the troops waited to trap Maj. Gen. Caesar Acellam, the LRA field commander.

“Our forces had been in that ambush for a fortnight; there was something we wanted and we have finally got it,” he said, unable to hide his satisfaction with Acellam’s capture. The man, his wife Gladys Adongo, 21, their one-year-old baby and a house maid were arrested on the bank of River Mbou in Central African Republic at around 11am on Saturday.

The capture, according to the Ugandan military officers, occurred as the family crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Col. Rugumayo said there was a brief skirmish, but made no mention of any injuries or deaths on either side. The LRA commander was curiously trekking unguarded.

He would later tell journalists that he had left his escorts, about thirty in number, behind in the DRC. They planned to cross to CAR later, he said. Then Ugandan army officials stopped the battery of journalists it had flown to Djema from asking the captured LRA commander too many questions.

So did Acellam surrender or was he captured? Acellam was a confidant of Vincent Otti, then a deputy LRA commander whom Kony ordered executed in October, 2007.

Both Otti and Acellam reportedly favoured the Juba peace talks. On the other hand, Kony who initially warmed to the dialogue, assigned a team to represent him at the South Sudan capital, and later became distrustful of his emissaries he accused of turning money-makers. The disagreement, according to insiders, boiled up at the LRA lairs with Kony accusing Otti of taking money from Uganda government to cause mass defections.

In the end, he ordered his execution. LRA fighters captured in previous UPDF raids said Otti’s was tied to a tree and shot multiple times, and body remained unburied for three days ostensibly to strengthen the spirit of the mystical LRA head, Joseph Kony. Acellam tried to escape, but Kony kept a close watch through intensified surveillance to restrain him.

He, therefore, never got the chance to surrender, a senior government official, who was deeply involved in the Juba negotiations, told this newspaper.

Acellam, still fearing he could be eliminated, is said to have telephoned an influential businessman in Gulu Town, alleged to have had direct links with Kony, to intervene.

Not much is known about what happened thereafter. Eventually, Acellam made up with Kony who assigned him as LRA field commander.

Col. Rugumayo insisted the implementer of the rebels’ plans sauntered into the ambush, with his family of four. Other security analysts say Acellam moved lean probably to escape detection.

The unnamed housemaid was left in Djema as the UPDF airlifted Acellam, his wife and child, to their operational base in Nzara, South Sudan.

The rebel commander said there is a lot of wild food in the jungles that starvation is not a problem for LRA fighters! Such edibles include wild yams that UPDF soldiers spat out when they tried a taste.

Another revelation that Acellam made is that leaflets dropped by regional armies, urging rebel fighters to defect, are usually picked or seized by senior commanders. Thus the information on surrender does not reach the bulk of the targeted fighters.

Acellam’s Profile
Born in 1962 in Mucwinyi Village in Chua County, Kitgum District. Enlisted voluntarily into LRA rebel group in 1988
He previously was LRA military intelligence chief. Kony withdrew him after UPDF soldiers in 2002 injured him in the right leg inside South Sudan during Operation Iron Fist.

During the Juba peace talks, he was a confidant of LRA deputy commander, Vincent Otti, whom Kony reportedly executed in October, 2007, following disagreements over the directions of the dialogue as well as allegations of money irregularly exchanging hands. After Otti’s alleged killing, Acellam reportedly tried to escape but failed to beat Kony’s surveillance.

They later made up, and Kony made him a Major General and assigned him as LRA field commander until Saturday.