The big question right now here in northern Uganda is whether Vicent Otti, the second-in-command of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is dead or alive. Nobody has heard from him for about a month and there is speculation, based on an interview with recent LRA deserter and former top commander, Opio Makasi, that Otti was ‘arrested’ by Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel army. It is likely, people find, that he is dead.
In an interview with the government-backed New Vision newspaper, Makasi tells the story of how he was tipped off that Kony wanted to arrest him, Otti and another commander, after which Makasi fled and walked through the Congolese jungle for five days. The government would however have an interest in giving the impression that the LRA is split; it strengthens its own position in the peace talks and depicts the LRA as weakened.
The worrying fact is that Otti was involved in the peace process. It was Otti who, on behalf of his commander, declared a ceasefire with the Ugandan army in August 2006. Does his arrest mean that Kony is trying to stop the peace process? There is currently an LRA peace team in Kampala, negotiating with the government; but are they in direct contact with Kony who is currently thought to be in Congo’s Garamba Forest? According to them, they are. But according to Opio’s interview in the newspaper, the LRA peace team is “just a mouth piece” and Kony is not interested in peace.
Apparently Joseph Kony last week spoke to the district chairman of Gulu district, Norbert Mao, via satellite phone. Kony said that he had expelled five commanders, including Makasi, accusing them of plotting to kill him. He also told ‘Chairman Mao’ that Otti was under arrest.