Global Policy Forum

Death of LRA's Deputy Leader Casts Shadow Over Peace Talks

January 28, 2008

The reported death of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) deputy leader, Vincent Otti, is expected to cast a shadow over peace talks between the rebel groups and the Ugandan government, scheduled to resume in Southern Sudan this week, local observers have said. Otti was believed to have been killed in October 2007, allegedly on the orders of LRA chief, Joseph Kony, who is said to have accused him of insubordination and subversion. The death had been the subject of conjecture until it was confirmed on 22 January by Southern Sudan's Vice-President Riek Machar, the chief mediator in the peace talks.

"Vincent Otti was critical to the talks," said Paddy Ankunda, Ugandan army spokesman. "He was the main link with efforts to have this problem solved through peaceful means. Now that he has died, there might be uncertainty, but we shall continue to give them [the LRA] benefit of the doubt now that Kony has ordered his new team to resume talks on 28 January," Ankunda told IRIN. A member of the government delegation to the talks said Otti's death would complicate the negotiations. "We had created a rapport with Otti in the past two years, unlike his boss Kony. His death creates a huge gap on the LRA's side," said Okello Oryem, junior minister in charge of international affairs.

Otti had in the recent past become to be regarded as the brains behind the LRA, which has been widely accused of committing atrocities against civilians in northern Uganda during its two-decade-long insurgency. He was one of the few senior LRA leaders who had spoken to the media and addressed the public through radio phone-in shows. A spokesman for the government team, Captain Chris Magezi, said Otti's killing "compromises to a certain degree any trust in Kony and may somehow choke the talks when we resume. We hope they continue being committed to the [peace] process [and take it] to its logical conclusion." However, the new head of the LRA negotiators, David Matsanga, was adamant the talks remained firmly on track. "There is nothing potentially undermining the peace talks. These peace talks are solid, solid like a rock of river Nile," Matsanga, whom Kony earlier in January appointed to replace Martin Ojul, saying he had made money from the talks, told VOA radio.

"I would like to assure the people of northern Uganda, the entire country and the entire international community that these peace talks will not collapse. We as the LRA delegation forcefully and with strength with all our heart and with all our faith we have faced in the peace process. We have got difficulties, yes like the ICC [International Criminal Court, which has issued indictments against Kony and other LRA leaders] and other things, which we know are still obstacles. But we are determined to have the peace process concluded conclusively and make it very clear to the people of Uganda that we shall not disappoint them. But we shall get peace at the end of the day and they should not be worried," Matsanga said. "Everything has been laid on the table, we have already discussed agenda number one, we have finished agenda number two, number three and we are now heading for agenda number four of ceasefire and DDR [Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Re-integration], which is number five," he added.

Monsignor Mathew Odongo, the vicar general of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu, told IRIN that Otti's death had created anxiety among the people who have borne the brunt of the rebellion. "We only hope they will be able to [take part in] dialogue for peace. The people want this war to end," he said. He said that listening to Kony on the radio recently confirming Otti's death, he had detected an element of commitment to the talks. "But when you hear what he does, one may conclude that he is simply playing around. But we remain hopeful."

Power struggle

Said Norbert Mao, Gulu district council chairman who has also been involved in efforts to restore peace in northern Uganda: "We view this as a power struggle in the LRA and we cannot make a judgment as to whether Otti was better than Kony. The LRA seems to be intact as everybody feared that the rebel negotiation team would not go and meet the LRA [leaders] and come back alive, but they did it recently. We may be looking at the real LRA complexity." The LRA's delegation to the talks is expected to change. Kony has sacked some members of the team, including its lead negotiator, Martin Ojul. Kony accused members of the LRA delegation removed from the team of receiving cash from the government. Mao, however, said he believed the changes could be the result of Otti's death, with Kony trying to retake control of the negotiating team.

The Ugandan military has sounded a pessimistic note over the talks, saying that rebel forces have not yet assembled at Ri-Kwangba in Southern Sudan's Western Equatoria state as required under a ceasefire agreement signed in 2006. "What is disturbing is that to date they [the rebels] have not moved to Ri-Kwangba and they are scattered in Garamba [Democratic Republic of Congo], which puts the whole process in doubt," Ankunda said. The Ugandan government and the LRA signed a document on accountability and reconciliation in June 2006, which identifies in principle a combination of local and national justice mechanisms that would be used to address wrongs committed by both the state and the rebellion. The peace talks have been on hold since July, although peace-building activities such as LRA consultations with war-affected communities have gone ahead.

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