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Senior rebel commander surrenders, Ugandan Defense Ministry says

By Samson Ntale, For CNN
Ugandan soldiers have been working in concert with Congolese forces in fighting Lord's Resistance Army rebels.
Ugandan soldiers have been working in concert with Congolese forces in fighting Lord's Resistance Army rebels.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lord's Resistance Army's director of operations, Charles Arop, surrendered Tuesday
  • Surrender effectively ends rebels' capacity to return to Uganda, official ends
  • Arop lost almost all of his troops in battles in eastern Congo
  • Troops with Uganda People's Defense Force are operating with Congolese army
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Kampala, Uganda (CNN) -- A top commander with the Lord's Resistance Army has surrendered to Ugandan army troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ugandan Defense Ministry announced Thursday.

The rebel group's director of operations, Charles Arop, surrendered Tuesday along with one of his soldiers after losing all his other troops in battles inside the jungles of restive eastern Congo, said ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye.

Arop's surrender effectively ends the LRA's capacity to return to Uganda, Kulayigye said.

"He [Arop] is of a very senior position, up in the LRA high command. This means it destabilizes it further and weakens their capacity to resume havoc on innocent Ugandans," Kulayigye explained.

Arop gave himself up to intelligence operatives with the Uganda People's Defense Force, who are operating alongside the Congolese army in eastern Congo, the spokesman said.

"Arop had fled to Faradje, south of Garamba National Park, with about 100 men when Operation Lightning Thunder started in December 2008. Most of his men have since been killed or surrendered," Kulayigye said.

Operation Lightning Thunder was a joint operation by Ugandan, Congolese, and Sudan People's Liberation Movement troops aimed at destroying LRA camps and forces and rescuing people who had been abducted by the rebel group.

Arop is accused of leading a massacre on residents of the Congolese town of Faradje on Christmas Day 2008, as part of a series of attacks by the LRA on towns where people had gathered to celebrate the holiday.

According to Human Rights Watch, Arop's troops killed 143 people and abducted 160 children and dozens of adults in the raid.

The LRA is led by self-declared mystic and prophet Joseph Kony, who claims his insurgency -- which began in 1986 -- is aimed at replacing the southern Uganda-dominated government, led by President Yoweri Museveni, with a democracy based on the Bible's Ten Commandments.

But the former altar boy's vicious attacks, mainly on civilians, undermined his claims. LRA troops -- consisting mostly of teenagers forced into service -- are notorious for abducting children and maiming their victims.

The group has been based in a game reserve inside Garamba in the jungles of northern Congo since 2005, after being weakened by the Ugandan army.

From there, the rebels are believed have launched their attacks on civilians in the Central African Republic, southern Sudan and inside Congo.

Kony and three of his top lieutenants are wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Arop is not one of those three lieutenants.

Last month, the LRA raided a camp for displaced Darfuris in southern Sudan looking for supplies.

"It's a new plan to move into the troubled Sudanese region, where the worst of six years of fighting appeared to have subsided recently," Kulayigye said.

At least six people were killed in the October 22 attack on the camp in Bahr-el-Ghazal, a southern Sudanese province that borders south Darfur.

Despite claiming to have the capacity and means to crush the LRA, the Ugandan army -- with support from the United States -- has spent 20 years fighting the rebel group in northern Uganda, a war that uprooted as many as 2 million people and forced them to live in squalid camps.

Aid agencies and the Ugandan government estimate tens of thousands of children were abducted by the LRA to be soldiers, porters and sex slaves. Hundreds of thousands have been left maimed.