By Staff Reporter
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Ugandan troops in March exhumed remains identified Monday as those of the No. 2 commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army.BRENT STIRTON / GETTY IMAGES REPORTAGE
The bullet-scarred remains of the No. 2 commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, the guerrilla group that once terrorized central Africa, have been positively identified after having been exhumed last month in a Uganda-led military expedition, a person involved in the recovery operation said Monday.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement from Uganda, said forensics experts were still completing DNA confirmation on the remains of the commander, Okot Odhiambo, one of five Lord’s Resistance Army soldiers, including its leader, Joseph Kony, wanted for the past decade by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The person said there was no doubt, based on other evidence, that the remains were those of Mr. Odhiambo.
Rumors of his death have circulated for years and last came up in October 2013, when he was thought to have been critically wounded in an ambush by Ugandan soldiers patrolling the Central African Republic. With the substantiation of Mr. Odhiambo’s death — plus the already confirmed deaths of two other L.R.A. defendants and the surrender of a fourth in January — only Mr. Kony, a warlord and self-described prophet, remains at large.
Ugandan military officials were not available to comment on Mr. Odhiambo’s death. A spokesman for the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, did not immediately return telephone and email messages.
Tipped off about Mr. Odhiambo’s possible remains, a team from the Uganda People’s Defense Forces went to a grave site in January in the Central African Republic’s southeast, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, a longtime domain of the L.R.A.
The Ugandan military team was assisted by advisers from the American military and the Bridgeway Foundation, a Houston-based charity that has contributed to the hunt for Mr. Kony and his disciples. They found a decomposing body with a bullet wound to the stomach, people involved in the recovery operation said.
The body was transported to Kampala, Uganda’s capital, where it has remained pending the official release of the DNA confirmation.
Mr. Odhiambo, a Ugandan thought to have been born in 1970, was known for his absolute fealty to Mr. Kony. For that loyalty Mr. Odhiambo was rewarded with senior positions, including the rank of lieutenant general, according to a biography by the L.R.A. Crisis Tracker, a website created by human rights organizations that have sought to publicize the group’s history of atrocities.
A warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court in July 2005 on two counts of crimes against humanity and eight counts of war crimes including murder, pillaging and the forced conscription of children.
News of his death came three months after Dominic Ongwen, a senior L.R.A. commander and co-defendant under indictment by the court, surrendered to a joint military task force of the United States and the African Union. Mr. Ongwen, believed to be about 35, got his start as a child soldier abducted when he was 10.
Mr. Ongwen was transferred to International Criminal Court custody, and the first hearing in his case has been scheduled for next January.
The Lord’s Resistance Army originated as a Ugandan rebel force nearly three decades ago. It evolved into an organization of marauding fighters who pillaged parts of Uganda, southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
Disciples swore obedience to Mr. Kony, who ordered village massacres and mutilations, kidnapped children for soldiering and kept a harem of prepubescent brides.
The United Nations has estimated that from 1987 to 2012, the L.R.A. killed more than 100,000 people, abducted up to 100,000 children and displaced more than 2.5 million civilians.
In 2011 the United States military began collaborating with the African Union to hunt down Mr. Kony, whose whereabouts remains unknown. Some rights activists believe he and followers have taken refuge in Sudan, lying low but still dangerous.
“Given Joseph Kony’s incredible capacity to survive, one always has to remain concerned for the civilians in proximity to the L.R.A.,” said Maria Burnett, senior researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
-New York Times