Top LRA commander captured alive

Achellam captured_REUTERS/James Akena

On Saturday, May 12th, Ugandan military forces captured Caesar Achellam, one of the top four commanders in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Achellam was captured in southeastern Central African Republic (CAR) after being in the LRA for over two decades. He was captured with a wife, a child, and a 12-year-old female from CAR.

Achellam holds one of the highest ranks within the LRA and is a leading influence in the group’s operations. Maj. General Achellam is an arabic speaker who managed the highly strategic relationship between the LRA and the Sudanese government in Khartoum. He also was one of two LRA commanders who had formal military training, and at one point he was the lead instructor for LRA troops.

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Prior to Achellam’s capture, his relationship to Kony was uncertain. For years, Achellam’s group operated always in close proximity to Kony’s group, but in 2007 Kony disciplined Achellam for indicating a desire to negotiate a settlement during the Juba Peace Talks. His personal security escort was removed and younger, more violent LRA officers were promoted. In 2010, LRA expert Ledio Cakaj reported that while Okot Odhiambo (an ICC indictee) was technically second in command, Achellam was growing more influential with Kony because of his established links with Sudan–a government known to provide the LRA with food, ammunition, and safe haven.

As Ledio Cakaj notes, “Given that his knowledge of the LRA is on par with that of Kony, the apprehension or defection of Achellam could significantly destabilize the LRA.” Not only is Achellam, as some have noted, an “intelligence gold mine,” he is highly respected by Ugandan LRA because of his deep ties to the LRA movement and his formal military training. Because of the respect he garners, some speculate that he is one of the few officers who could have assumed control of the LRA if Kony were to be apprehended. For the same reasons, his capture could trigger a new wave of LRA surrenders. Since his capture, Achellam has said that he finally feels free now that he is out of the LRA. “My coming out will have a big impact for the people still in the bush to come out and end this war soon.”

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We hope that Achellam will use his influence to encourage peaceful LRA defections. The surrender of LRA combatants is an important component of ending this conflict permanently. Not only does each surrender signify one fewer combatant, it also destabilizes the rest of the group, especially in the case of LRA commanders. Invisible Children has collaborated with the UN and regional partners in promoting surrenders through the distribution of fliers and support for FM radio networks.

Uganda’s Amnesty Act of 2000 says that LRA combatants will be granted amnesty if they renounce the rebellion. Based on precedent and Achellam’s cooperation thus far, it seems likely that Achellam will seek amnesty.  The Amnesty Act is scheduled to expire this year, but the Ugandan government has indicated that they intend to extend it. How the Ugandan government will proceed with Achellam is somewhat unclear because it’s somewhat new territory. Uganda attempted to prosecute lower-ranking LRA officer Thomas Kwoyelo last year, but the courts ruled that Kwoyelo had a right to amnesty.

Invisible Children’s Country Director, Jolly Okot says, “It is a very good thing that Caesar Acellam, his wife, and his daughter have come out of the bush alive. Now they can share their experiences with the world. The message is very clear: the suffering must stop. The difference will be shared by everyone.”

The White House issued a press release this afternoon:

“The United States congratulates the Government of Uganda on the capture of one of the senior commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) by the Ugandan military. The capture of Maj. Gen. Ceasar Acellam is a testament to the resolve of Uganda and its military forces to work with regional forces to end the threat posed by the LRA.

Ugandan and other regional forces continue to pursue the LRA and keep its leadership on the run. The United States joins regional governments and the African Union in calling on abductees and remaining members of the LRA to depart the ranks of the LRA and peacefully surrender. Support is available to help those who defect and peacefully surrender to return to their home communities and build a new life.”

Achellam’s capture is a major victory for everyone interested in seeing an end to LRA violence. This is an important step in capturing Joseph Kony, dismantling the LRA, and ending LRA violence for good.

For updates on LRA activity, vist LRACrisisTracker.com or follow @CrisisTracker on Twitter.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/James Akena

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