KAMPALA (Reuters) - Deserters from Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) said on Friday the rebels’ leader Joseph Kony had executed his deputy Vincent Otti due to Otti’s enthusiasm for peace talks.
“Kony ordered Otti’s execution on the 2nd of October,” former LRA commander Sunday Otto told reporters, speaking on behalf of seven rebels flown to Kampala after handing themselves in to U.N. peacekeepers.
“Otti’s killing sent a chill in LRA, and that’s why we left, and there are very many others who are following.”
Otti, regarded as the brains behind the group in contrast to the volatile Kony, was a prime mover behind the LRA joining peace talks that began last year in Juba, South Sudan, aimed at ending its 20-year insurgency.
Rumors of his death had been circulating for weeks in Uganda, with various rebel and mediator sources saying he had been arrested by Kony. But until Friday, no credible source had offered confirmation of the speculation that Otti was dead.
A mediator in the peace process had said Kony punished Otti on allegations of spying while Ugandan media have said there was a dispute over money and control.
Otto said problems arose because Otti was pro-peace.
“The rift between Vincent and Kony is because Otti wanted peace talks and Kony was completely against,” he said.
Otto said Kony informed him about it via phone between their hideouts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“Then Kony later called me and my colleague Odon Richard justifying Otti’s execution,” he said.
The seven LRA members, who included four commanders and three child combatants, surrendered themselves this week to the U.N. peace mission MONUC in Congo.
On arrival at Entebbe airport, just south of Kampala, the seven appeared exhausted and still wore the unwashed military fatigues in which they had walked for miles without food or water from their hideout.
LRA spokesman Godfrey Yahoo has said Otti is still alive, although he suffered cholera during a recent outbreak in his camp.
Kony and Otti were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for war crimes committed during their armed campaign against the government.
The war uprooted 2 million people in north Uganda alone and destabilized parts of Sudan and Congo.
A truce was signed at the Juba talks in August 2006.
But the LRA’s top leaders have stayed hidden in Congo, fearing arrest if they show their faces.
Otti often spoke to mediators and reporters by satellite phone from his hideouts. But he fell silent in recent weeks and his various numbers went unanswered.
Otto, who was captured by government forces in 2003 but returned to the LRA in 2005, said he had tried to persuade Kony that peace negotiations were his only option. “But when he killed Otti, I quickly realized he is not interested in peace.”
U.N. officials said other LRA rebels should come out soon.
“This should be the first batch of LRA combatants surrendering to MONUC, there are many more and we hope this is the beginning of a fruitful process,” said Shaku Jalloh, of a U.N. demobilization team.
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne, editing by Robert Woodward