Ugandan LRA rebel commander surrenders in Congo

Reuters/October 23, 2007

Kinshasa - A commander of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army has surrendered in northern Democratic Republic of Congo and is in the custody of Congolese authorities, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Opiyo Makasi, reported to be the rebel group's operations and logistics commander, gave himself up along with his wife and they were transferred to Kinshasa on October 14, said Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Congo (MONUC).

Revising an earlier version he gave which said Makasi had given himself up to U.N. peacekeepers, Saiki said the LRA officer had surrendered to Congolese police at Dungu in Congo's northern Orientale province, which borders Sudan.

"He was supposed to be handed over to MONUC," the U.N. spokesman said, adding Makasi was being held by the Congolese authorities.

LRA leaders, whose brutal 20-year war in northern Uganda killed tens of thousands of people and displaced 2 million more, signed a truce with Uganda last year but have refused to quit their jungle hideouts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Saiki said the U.N. mission believed Makasi should be eligible for MONUC's demobilization and repatriation program for ex-combatants who turned themselves in, meaning he should be sent back to Uganda.

"There was a request from MONUC that he be handed over for DDRRR (disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration) ... there has been no response so far from the Congolese," he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Congolese government.

Makasi is not one of the four top LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes such as killing civilians, slicing body parts off victims and kidnapping thousands of children to serve as fighters and sex slaves.

Those four, including LRA leader and self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti, remain at large.

In northern Uganda, one of Makasi's uncles told local media he was overjoyed his nephew had made the "wise decision" to abandon the rebellion, and called for him to receive government protection so he could return to his family.

A Ugandan army spokesman told Reuters the military was pleased with his surrender, but that it did not change the threat the LRA still posed to residents in the north.

"For us, a peace accord is more important," he said.

The cessation of hostilities the LRA signed with the government last year has been largely respected, but the guerrilla group has said it will never sign a final peace deal unless the ICC drops the indictments against its leaders.

Congo's 1998-2003 war sucked in six other nations, and rebels from neighboring Uganda and Rwanda still roam parts of the volatile east, where the U.N.-backed Congolese army is battling several armed groups.

(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Kampala)

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