UPDF occupies Kony's camps (Congo)
Kampala -They found traces of blood, burnt out huts and signs of human activity but no sign, whatsoever, of LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony.
UPDF Special Forces yesterday arrived at the camps destroyed by Sunday's bombing in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo but could neither give details of casualties or the whereabouts of the rebel fighters.
Not even the commando unit of the UPDF special forces, the first military element to enter Kony's command post at Camp "Kiswahili", about 90km North of Dungu in the vast Garamba jungle, could trace the whereabouts of the LRA rebel leader yesterday afternoon, according to various UPDF officers Daily Monitor spoke to but, who could not be quoted because of the sensitivity of the matter.
WHERE IS HE? LRA leader Joseph Kony holds his daughter, Lacot, and son, Opiyo, at peace negotiations on November 30. REUTERS PHOTO
"Our ground troops from the commando unit reached the biggest LRA camp. They have not found any bodies or wounded persons although there is evidence that a considerable number was wounded or killed at the scene during the air strikes," Capt. Chris Magezi, the spokesman for the UPDF operation code-named Operation "Lightning Thunder" said.
He said nine sub-machine guns (SMGs) and four anti-personnel mines were recovered. The spokesman said there was likelihood that the rebels carried away the dead or wounded and concealed them between the air strikes and the time the ground troops reached the scene.
The army could not explain how rebels under intense attack would find time to conceal dead bodies or carry away the wounded.
But Defence State Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said, those who have doubts about the raid should wait for the pictures of the attacks including the dead.
"As much as we are eager to tell Ugandans the number of casualties, we are constrained to do so because the camps were completely destroyed and people were killed," the minister said.
The practice after military operations is to take the press to the scene to record first hand accounts other than depending on pictures or information supplied by the military.
"The six abductees who were rescued near the camp said they jumped over bodies as they escaped," Capt. Magezi said.
He said six Congolese and Central Africans, aged between 11 and 17, were rescued from the gardens of sweet potatoes, rice, groundnuts, simsim, cassava and beans around the camp.
Ms Nankabirwa said Kony's female bodyguard, who was abducted from the Central African Republic, surrendered to the UPDF.
Daily Monitor could not independently verify the army claims.
But Ms Nankabirwa said the essence of the strikes is to put pressure on Kony to come out and sign the peace deal if he is still alive. "Since we went in, he has not engaged our troops. We are just hitting him, he does not respond," she added.
The commandos under Maj. Noel Mwesigye, aboard the military helicopters were parachuted in the radius of between five to 10km from the camp and they crawled into the deserted expanse.
Capt. Magezi said in the camp the forces found guns, explosives, a generator, granaries stuffed with food, saucepans, clothes and other personal effects.
"The forces moved through acres and acres of food crops, which is a sign that Kony has been using abductees as slaves to cultivate the food," Capt.
But like Army and Defence spokesman Paddy Ankunda, Magezi could not say whether Kony was in the camp at the time of the attack.
"We are trying to verify some reports. Give us some time to do that," Maj. Ankunda said. Neither Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, nor the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, could be got for comment.
But the Governor of Central Equatoria state, which covers Juba city, Maj. Gen. Clement Wani Konga, has warned of imminent attack by the LRA rebels following the military offensive.
The attack on LRA camps was launched jointly by the Southern Sudan, DR Congo and UPDF.
Gen. Wani issued the warning in the state council meeting on Monday, which reviewed the security situation in the region with emphasis on taking precautionary measures by the population, the Sudan Tribune reported yesterday.
Gen. Wani, who also chairs the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party in the state, asked the council to mobilise the citizens to fight back if the rebels attack the area. As the offensive continued yesterday, Resolve Uganda, a US-based organisation that monitors human rights in the North, called for the international community to act decisively to ensure that operations target LRA leaders only.
The call comes as the United Nations Security Council prepares for a briefing this week by Mr Joaquim Chissano, the UN envoy to regions affected by the rebels.
"We must not forget that this is an army comprised primarily of children being held against their will whose lives also hang in the balance," said Mr Michael Poffenberger, Resolve Uganda executive director.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international rights group, said all parties should respect international humanitarian law and LRA leaders accused of war crimes who surrender or are captured should be brought to trial.
"There is a history of grave abuses against civilians by every belligerent force operating in eastern Congo, including foreign armies," said Ms Elise Keppler, senior counsel with HRW's International Justice Programme in a statement on Tuesday.
"All commanders involved in this operation should ensure that their troops rigorously obey the laws of war," she added.
Von: 18.12.2008, by Grace Matsiko, www.monitor.co.ug