Ugandan forces have captured one of the Lord's Resistance Army's five most wanted leaders in an operation which analysts said had struck a vital blow against Joseph Kony, the fugitive LRA leader accused of war crimes.
The Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) said on Sunday that Caesar Achellam, a major general in Kony's outfit of about 200 fighters, was captured in an ambush on Saturday along the banks of the River Mbou in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).
They said Achellam had been armed with just an AK-47 rifle and eight rounds of ammunition. He was being held with his wife, a young daughter and a helper.
The army, which has a force hunting for Kony full-time in the jungles of CAR, backed by US troops, said the capture of Achellam would encourage other fighters to abandon the LRA.
"The arrest of Major General Caesar Achellam is big progress because he is a big fish. His capture is definitely going to cause an opinion shift within LRA," said Felix Kulaigye, a UPDF spokesman.
A reporter from the Reuters news agency who accompanied UPDF forces to CAR said Achellam, who was paraded before the media, was walking with a limp, which he attributed to an old wound.
He was returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo when he walked into the Ugandan soldiers' ambush. UPDF said it had been on his trail for a month.
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The LRA waged a war against the government in northern Uganda for nearly 20 years before it was ejected in 2005.
In December 2008, Uganda launched Operation Lightning Thunder, dispersing the rebels and pushing them north into CAR.
Analysts said Achellam was a close ally of Kony who had masterminded the group's relocation from northern Uganda.
"From whichever angle you look at it, the loss of Achellam should be very troubling for Kony and a big boost for his
manhunt," said Angelo Izama, an analyst who has written extensively on the LRA.
An African Union (AU) backed 5,000-strong force has been launched to hunt down Kony, whose notoriety has gained worldwide attention after a video about him made by a US charity was posted on YouTube and viewed by tens of millions of people.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for rape, mutilation and murder of civilians, as well as forcibly recruiting children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.