KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The Lord’s Resistance Army has suffered its biggest defection in years after 19 members surrendered to an advocacy group and African Union troops hunting the insurgents in the Central African Republic, the advocacy group said.
Invisible Children said in a statement late Tuesday the LRA members approached a civilian fishing on a riverbank near the village of Tabane in southeastern Central African Republic on Dec. 6 with their weapons raised above their heads.
The fisherman contacted the advocacy group who took them in, the statement said.
The aid group said the defectors — nine adult males, four adult females and six children — is a severe blow to LRA’s strength. Ben Keesey, Invisible Children CEO, said it is the largest group to have defected from the LRA in five years.
“Most significantly, six of the nine males were Ugandan, including a lieutenant and a lieutenant colonel , representing a severe blow to the LRA’s strength and command structure,” the statement said.
The leader of the 19 defectors, Lt. Col. Okello Okutti, was abducted by the LRA in 1989 and had risen to prominence within the group, the statement added.
Late last month, a senior LRA commander and 13 of his rebel fighters were killed by Ugandan forces in the Central African Republic.
Col. Samuel Kangul, believed to be the fourth in command of the LRA ,was killed using intelligence gathered by United States advisers, said Ugandan Army Deputy Spokesman Maj. Robert Ngabirano.
About 100 U.S. Special Forces are helping African troops to hunt down LRA leader Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Kony’s LRA is accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of killing and mutilating innocent civilians and kidnapping thousands of children, forcing them to be soldiers and sex slaves.