Uganda Rebel Hideout Hit by Cholera, Leaders Safe: Official

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 11 2007 11:08 AM

An outbreak of cholera has swept a hideout camp housing Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army, infecting its leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti and scores of fighters, a spokesman said Friday.

The outbreak, caused by recent flooding and poor sanitation in the Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo frontier hideout, was first reported in September, but details of fatalities remain unclear.

"They are in a healing process," LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo told a press conference in Nairobi.

Scores of LRA fighters were seen Thursday buying medicine in the border outpost of Nabanga, according to a top official from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which governs the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan.

The United Nations has delivered medicine to the rebel hideouts, Ayoo said.

Although cholera -- a waterborne disease that causes diarrhoea and vomiting -- can be fatal if not treated within 24 hours, Ayoo did not give any toll.

The 61-year-old Otti's whereabouts had been unknown since last month after rival LRA factions clashed over the line to adopt in peace talks with the Ugandan government aimed at ending two decades of insurgency.

Ayoo blamed Kampala for Wednesday's Ugandan press reports that Kony had killed his deputy, a day after a rebel delegation started consultations with local leaders and the public in the war-battered north, seeking to revive stuttering peace talks.

He insisted Kampala had an habit of announcing Otti's death recklessly, only for him emerge alive.

"The issue and the concentration about the whereabouts of Otti is being used to deter the people of northern Uganda from actively making use of this consultation to find a permanent solution to the (conflict)," he said.

"Our immediate target in a situation like this is our partner in the peace negotiations -- for example the government of Uganda trying to speak on our behalf," he explained.

Ugandan Interior Minister Ruhakana Rugunda rejected the accusations, saying Kampala had thrown its weight behind the stalled talks being mediated by the south Sudan government.

"It is not that the government is undermining the peace process," Rugunda explained.

Army spokesman Felix Kulaigye said: "It is good if Otti is alive."

Southern Sudan authorities Wednesday sent a team to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo to look for Otti, while LRA top negotiator Martin Ojul denied the press reports.

In 2005, the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted five LRA leaders, including Kony and Otti, on a raft of charges such as murder, rape and enslavement of children.

Since the LRA took over a two-year-old rebellion in northern Uganda in 1988, its operations have been shrouded in secrecy, with Kony and Otti appearing in public for the first time in 2006.

Aid workers have said that disease outbreaks in rebel camps have contributed to depleting LRA ranks in the course of the conflict, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced up to 1.8 million people.

The two sides signed a truce in August last year, and the ongoing talks in the southern Sudan capital Juba are seen as the best chance to end the conflict described by the UN as one of the world's most neglected conflict.

Mediators are yet to fix a new date resumption of the peace talks that opened in July last year.