A senior commander of a Ugandan rebel group has been killed in Central African Republic, Ugandan officials have said.
Brigadier Bok Abudema of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was killed in the town of Djema on Friday amid an ongoing operation against the group by Ugandan forces across several countries in the region.
Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayige, Uganda's defence and army spokesman, said Abudema was the only casualty of the raid that killed him but troops also recovered two women who had been with him.
"He was a notorious commander but his life has come to an end," he said.
Okello Oryem, Uganda's foreign affairs minister, repeated the military's claims that it had carried out a successful operation against the LRA commander.
"Abudema is absolutely dead, he will never recover from his death and his body is due to be buried any time now because his body is fermenting," he told Al Jazeera from Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
"This is a massive triumph," he said. "Abudema was a killer, he was a rapist and he committed massacres in northern Uganda on a number of occasions."
Intelligence officials have said that Abudema was effectively the second most senior commander of the outfit, led by Joseph Kony, following the wounding about a year ago of deputy commander Okot Odhiambo.
"The LRA is still very much effective and there are many field commanders who are capable of conducting operations against the government of Uganda"
However, Obonyo Olweny, a spokesman for the LRA, played down Abudema's role in the group and said he was unable to confirm the Ugandan army's claims.
"I cannot say for sure that Brigadier Bok Abudema is dead," he said by telephone from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
"This is not the end of the LRA. The LRA resistance will continue as long as the problems which started the war in northern Uganda are not solved.
"The LRA is still very much effective and there are many field commanders who are capable of conducting operations against the government of Uganda, who are capable of leading the resistance."
The LRA has been waging a brutal fight against Ugandan government targets in the north of the country since 1988, but Ugandan army operations have forced the group to move east into Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
In November, Kulayige said Ugandan special forces had killed another senior LRA commander, Okello Kutti, in Central African Republic, near its eastern border with Sudan.
A senior bodyguard of Kony was also recently reported to have been captured in the country.
Hunting the LRA
Ugandan foreign afairs minister Oryem said the Ugandan military would target Kony and other LRA leaders wherever they might be hiding.
|Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges [File: AFP]
"We are determined to pursue the LRA commanders ... wherever they go, even if they move into the deserts of the Middle East we will pursue them," he said.
"The UPDF [Ugandan People's Defence Force] is on the ground pursuing [Kony] on a daily basis, day and night we are pursuing Joseph Kony."
Kony has said that the LRA is fighting to defend the Biblical Ten Commandments, but the group has also stated its desire to topple Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, and has complained of a number of local grieveances.
The LRA declared a unilateral ceasefire in August 2006 and a truce was agreed later the same month.
However, as negotiations for a lasting peace dragged on LRA fighters began to drift away from two designated assembly points and the talks broke down.
Another possible breakthrough came in February 2008, when the Ugandan government and LRA signed a deal stipulating that Kampala would set up special courts to handle accusations of war crimes against LRA leaders, rather than handing them over to the International Criminal Court.
But Kony repeatedly failed to show up to sign a final peace deal.