LRA Commander Captured! What Does It Mean?

Over the weekend, news broke that LRA commander Ceasar Acellam Otto was captured by UPDF soldiers on the border between Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his 60s, Acellam is a former UNLA fighter, meaning he’s been a rebel since before the LRA were in the game, so he’s a pretty big catch. He was allegedly in charge of intelligence for the LRA, and defectors have alluded to him being the link between Kony and Khartoum. While Acellam is not one of the remaining leaders that has been indicted by the ICC, he is one of the top commanders of the rebel force. His capture could mean a lot of things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near.

The LRA has been increasingly on the run, but has regained some strength. After a long silence in the last months of 2011, during which LRA leader Joseph Kony allegedly ordered his troops to lie low, the rebels have been making a comeback with attacks on the rise in Central African Republic. This is in addition to the steady flow of attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where UPDF soldiers cannot follow.

Against this backdrop, the BBC recently reported on allegations that Sudan was again supporting the LRA, which comes as no surprise. Khartoum supported Kony for years during the 1990s and early 2000s, and with increasing tensions along the Sudan-South Sudan border it would benefit the government to partner with the LRA once again. Indeed, as far back as late 2010 people were saying that Kony could be on his way to Darfur, where he would be safe from international pressure.

While Acellam’s capture could deal a huge blow to the LRA, if Kony is already in Sudan then there is no change in the manhunt. As Mark Kersten has pointed out, it’s like playing hide and seek with the seekers in one house and the child hiding in another. No matter who the coalition of soldiers captures, Kony might not be where they’re looking. Ending LRA violence is obviously in the interests of many, but capturing Joseph Kony has been the stated goal (and means to ending the violence) all along. If the LRA is getting support from Sudan, it’s even more likely than before that LRA fighters and indicted leaders are seeking shelter under Khartoum’s wing. If the LRA leadership enjoys safe haven and impunity, the conflict won’t be over.

Update: Mark Kersten has written a pretty thorough addition to the discussion of Acellam’s “capture.”

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