KAMPALA, July 28 (Reuters) – Ugandan troops killed more than 30 Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in an attack in southern Sudan that may also have killed the leader of the cult-like group, the army said on Wednesday.
Army spokesman Shaban Bantariza said it was not yet clear whether self-proclaimed mystic and LRA chief Joseph Kony was among the dead after Wednesday afternoon’s raid east of Juba.
“It is certainly possible Kony was killed because we have not yet confirmed everyone who died,” he told Reuters. “More than 30 dead rebels had been counted by duskfall.”
Ugandan troops seized a walkie-talkie handset and a radio transmitter which Bantariza said a captured Kony aide later identified as belonging to the altar boy turned rebel leader.
“If Kony survived he is likely to have cut and run,” he said. “If he did survive it must have been very close. Imagine you abandon your own walkie-talkie which you are carrying.”
Some 1.6 million Ugandans have fled clashes between the army and the LRA which launches attacks in northern Uganda from bases across the border in southern Sudan.
The notoriously brutal rebel group routinely targets civilians, mutilates its victims and has kidnapped tens of thousands of children who are forced to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves. It appears to have no clear objectives beyond overthrowing the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
Bantariza said Ugandan troops also captured 29 people including four of Kony’s wives and several children who are thought to be Kony’s in the raid.
Adding to the possibility that the leader of northern Uganda’s 18-year-old insurgency was dead, Bantariza said a pair of general’s shoulder pip decorations was also found on the battlefield after the clash. “You know Kony recently promoted himself to general,” the army spokesman added.
But Bantariza said it would be some time before it was known whether Kony had been killed or escaped with his life.
He said the raid near Biriniang village was launched with the support of Sudan’s government, but without its troops’ direct involvement.
He said Uganda had protested to Khartoum that Kony was hiding near Sudanese government forces north of the so-called Red Line setting the limits of where Ugandan troops are allowed to operate against the LRA under a 2002 accord.
“We are very grateful to the (Sudanese) commanders in Juba,” he said. “We had been telling Sudan to let us go in since they did not seem to be doing much to hunt these thugs down. So today we crossed the Red Line and hit Kony’s camp.”