How Joseph Kony Killed his No.2 Vincent Otti

“WHAT crime have I committed? Are you really going to kill me? All along, I have been so good to you. Why can’t you tell me my mistake? May God help you.” These were the last words of the LRA’s former second-in-command, Vincent Otti, when he was facing the firing squad outside Joseph Kony’s defence in Garamba National Park on October 2.

By DailyNewsUg Correspondent

Ex-Lord’s Resistance Army Commander Thomas Kwoyelo alias Latoni recently narrated the circumstances that led to death of  Lt. General Vincent Otti. This, as the defense trial of Kwoyelo resumed on Monday, April 22, before the International Crimes Division of the High Court sitting in Gulu City.

Vincent Otti, the deputy commander of Uganda's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) addresses a news conference in Ri-Kwangba, near the Sudan-Congo border, Sept. 20, 2006.

Crossing River Nile to DRC

In his defense statement, Kwoyelo recounted to the court the exodus of LRA rebels from Sudan through the River Nile to the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), his arrest, and that of Otti on Joseph Kony’s orders over suspicion of defecting to Ugandan government and how Kony’s spirits saved his life from execution.

In 2005, according to Kwoyelo, Kony ordered Vincent Otti, his then Deputy to cross towards the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with some LRA soldiers. Otti would later heed the orders and cross with some LRA rebels to Garamba National Park in the DRC where he set up the first LRA rebel base. He told the court that Joseph Kony later picked another group of LRA soldiers to follow Vince Otti to Garamba National Park.

Kwoyelo noted that in the same year, Otti sent information via Radio calls which he (Kwoyelo) heard revealing that there were some soldiers of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) who were deployed to protect the DRC government.

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According to Kwoyelo, MONUC soldiers later attacked Otti and a battle ensued between them and the LRA rebels. Otti would later send back a report of how he fought with MONUC soldiers which prompted Joseph Kony to promote Vincent Otti to the rank of Lieutenant General.

Among other commanders also promoted at the time included Okot Odhiambo who rose to a Maj. General and Caesar Acellam was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen. In the same year 2005 towards the end, according to Kwoyelo, Okot Odhiambo crossed the river Nile and followed Vicent Otti. Otti had travelled with Abuk Abudema who was then a Brigadier.

Kony Crosses to DRC

He revealed that Gen. Joseph Kony also later crossed the river Nile from his headquarters in Sudan and joined Vincent Otti in Garamba National Park. After his arrival, Kwoyelo said Kony later made arrangements for the peace Juba talk with his commanders so that the negotiation could begin.

He later also sent an order to Dominic Ongwen, then one of the Sinia Brigade commanders to evacuate soldiers who were across the river in areas of Agago and Kitgum in Northern Uganda and lead them to Owiny Kibul village, an assembly point for LRA rebels in Eastern Equatoria state in the then Sudan, now South Sudan.

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Kwoyelo told the court that Kony later ordered him to cross the river to the Western side of Sudan and meet up with a group of LRA soldiers so that they all move towards Owiny Kibul. He said he was told to move with all the sick and wounded. At the time the LRA and the government of Uganda had agreed on cessation of hostility to allow LRA rebels to assemble at Owiny Kibul.

Kwoyelo told the court that by the end of 2005, all LRA rebels had left Uganda to their assembly point in the Eastern Equatoria state while some went to Garamba National Park. Other senior LRA commanders who would later be summoned into DRC by Kony were Maj. Gen Caesar Acellam who crossed the river Nile in 2006 while wounded and Brig Dominic Ongwen who had been issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he should cross and go to him.

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“After Dominic went, as Kwoyelo Thomas, I was left in Eastern Equatoria, because there were sick people with whom I was working so I remained with them. That year, it was very hard to cross River Nile, because the UPDF soldiers had intensified their deployment along the river. At every mile, there was a deployment of UPDF soldiers to block the LRA rebels from crossing into Congo,” He recounted.

He, however, says some of the LRA soldiers used their tricks and crossed the UPDF defence line while a major negotiation between the LRA and UPDF led to the removal of some deployment that saw him crossing in 2007 to Garamba National Park.

“When we reached there, the negotiations for the peace talks were proceeding. Delegations of the LRA used to visit and in all the peace talks, they were present. The first peace negotiation happened in Juba. But Kony rejected the Juba Peace talks because he didn’t want to go to Juba, so the venue was changed to Rikwamba,” he said.

Tension between Otti and Kony ensues

In 2008, according to Kwoyelo, tension ensued between Gen. Joseph Kony and Lt. General Vincent Otti. At the time, Opiyo Makasi was the Director of Operations. He noted that Kony lived separately from Otti who was at the time staying with Opiyo Makasi.

He said one day in 2008, Kony sent Lt. Gen Vincent Otti, Opiyo Makasi, Otim Records, and Ben Acellam, the then Brigade Commander of Ondo Brigade to Rikwamba in Western Equatoria in Sudan regarding the then-ongoing peace talks.

After they had gone and spent about a day, Kwoyelo said he had an impression that Kony himself would also follow Otti there, but he however later sent a message to Otti to return to Garamba National Park in Congo.

The Arrest of Otti and Top LRA 

Kwoyelo told the court that Kony later ordered the Aide-de-Camp (ADC) Otto Agweng and Abudema Abuk to select some soldiers from within his bodyguards to be on standby. After the LRA soldiers were selected, Kony instructed his commanders to arrest the escorts of Vincent Otti and disarm them. The commanders were also ordered to set up an ambush and arrest Otti, Otim Records, and Ben Acellam once they returned from Rikwamba.

Kwoyelo’s arrest 

At the time, Kwoyelo said he was with Joseph Kony when an order came for his arrest. “I was bound up, they tied my hand behind my back, the rope crossed through my chest and my leg too was tied. I was blindfolded with a black piece of cloth and later tied on the center pillar of the hut,” he said.

He noted that when Vincent Otti returned, he was immediately arrested along with Otim Records, and Ben Acellam and were later moved to where Kony was staying. The arrest according to him forced Opiyo Makasi, the then Director of Operations after witnessing what happened to run away to the bush together with his wife.

According to Kwoyelo, after his arrest, he spent a day bound on the center pillar of the, but Vincent Otti was taken to a different place. He noted all his escorts were disarmed and all his wives were taken to the home of the ADC of Joseph Kony, Otto Agweng.

Killing of Vincent Otti

The following day, according to him at about 9 pm or 9:30 pm, he heard the sound of gunshots similar to that of PK from a distance which he realized later was used to shoot dead Vincent Otti across a nearby stream. He later also said he heard another sound of gunshots from PK and SMG at a home nearby where the selected LRA soldiers had gone to arrest one of the commanders called Ayimaga, a Madi tribesman.

Ayimaga reportedly resisted the arrest and in retaliation, he was shot dead. The bullet also hit one of the LRA soldiers dead and the escort of Kwoyelo known as Okwera from Pader District who was in one of the huts after was also hit and injured in the thighs.

Kwoyelo said he remained bound inside the grass-thatched hut until 4 pm on the second day when Joseph Kony, his escort Lt. Col Binany, and Kony’s brother Olanya, his ADC Agweng and Ocan Labongo came to him.

“WHAT crime have I committed? Are you really going to kill me? All along, I have been so good to you. Why can’t you tell me my mistake? May God help you.” These were the last words of the LRA’s former second-in-command, Vincent Otti, when he was facing the firing squad outside Joseph Kony’s defence in Garamba National Park on October 2.

As his executioner, Buk Abudema, ordered: “Fire!”, Otti bowed his head and started praying. In a bizarre twist of fate, the man who had commanded numerous executions himself, the most notorious being the Atiak killing in 1995 in which over 200 people were shot dead, found himself uttering the same words as many of his victims.

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In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Vision in 2007, Sunday Otto, one of the commanders who was present during the execution and has since defected, revealed that Otti was killed by eight bullets which were fired by Capt. Ogwal. “Then Capt. Okumu Dombolo emptied his magazine into the already dead body.”

Q: You told the press upon your return 10 days ago that Vincent Otti was dead. Did you witness his death? A: I can confirm that Vincent Otti was killed on October 2 at 10:00am at a place called Anida, 300m from Kony’s defence. He was killed together with Lt. Col. Ben Accelam and Capt. Alfred Otim. Some people are trying to confuse the public, claiming that Otti is alive. But I have evidence because I came from there.

Q: What happened exactly?

A: It all started on September 25. That day, Kony and Otti met the Acholi paramount chief and delegates of the LRA team, including Martin Ojul, at Ri-Kwangba. I returned to our base in Garamba with Kony’s group. Otti came back later. We reached the main defence, called Boo, where the rebels have a large garden, on September 30. The next day, we moved to Kony’s defence, three miles away. On the way, Kony called Otti on his satellite phone. He told him to leave Ri-Kwangba and assemble at the main defence in Boo with all his officers and fighters. On October 1, Kony started to mobilise some troops, whom he put on stand-by. Three groups were prepared: Hapu, Independent and Kony’s security. I was attached as intelligence officer to Independent. The soldiers were armed with B10 bombs, KPM and assault rifles and taken to the compound of Otto Agweng, Kony’s chief security officer.

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That day, Kony called for a meeting with the officers who were with him. Kwoyelo arrived and was immediately put under arrest. Adjumani was asked to tie Kwoyelo up. He tied him in a terrible way — kandoya (three-piece)-style. The next moment, Adjumani himself was put at gunpoint. He looked very surprised. As he was ordered to sit down, he pulled his gun out and started firing at random. This prompted Maj. Arop and Capt. Ogwal, to fire back. He died instantly. A sergeant, called Ojok, also died in the fire-exchange, while another soldier, Ocuc, got wounded.

Q: Why was Adjumani killed?

A: He was close to Otti. Kony wanted him arrested because he feared he would leak the plan to Otti. But he resisted arrest. That is why he was killed.

Q: When did Otti arrive?
A: He arrived around 9:00am that day. He called Kony, informing him that they had reached Boo. Kony told him to assemble all the commanders and come for a meeting at his base the next morning. He called me for a meeting shortly afterwards. “You know what is happening within the LRA,” he said. “What I am going to do should not scare you.” He told me that the LRA was divided and that most of the troops were more loyal to Otti than to him. He complained that his orders were no longer being followed. He had ordered his fighters to go and abduct but they refused because Otti had argued that this would spoil the talks. He had proposed to move to the Central African Republic but Otti had refused.

“Who is the leader when I issue orders and people don’t follow them, but instead listen to Otti?” he wondered. He said he was very confident in what the spirit had told him, that he knew the Government was planning to kill him and they were using the peace talks to have him arrested and killed. “They deceive you and try to convince you to come out and then they kill you,” he said. “Anybody who believes in peace talks will die in the same way as John Garang, who was killed by the UN.” He then confined to me that he was going to arrest Otti.

Q: What advice did you give him? advised Kony against a constant reshuffle of the peace team and unnecessary dismissal of members. I told him if he did not trust the delegates, he should select some of his commanders to join the team. I also advised him against killing Otti. But he said he was the father of the movement. Without him, the movement would not exist, whereas it could do without the others.

When I returned home, I knew something terrible was going to happen. Later that day, Kony issued an order that nobody moves anywhere, not even to fetch water or food. Anybody found moving would be shot on sight. Troops were deployed on the path leading to Otti’s place. Kony wanted to ensure that there was no leakage.

Q: What happened the next morning?
A: At 7:00am, Kony called his four brigadiers — Ocan Bunia, Nicksman Opuk, Dominic Ongwen and Buk Abudema, as well his chief security. He briefed them: “When Otti comes, you must make sure you arrest him,” he instructed them. Kony then evacuated his family to another defence, about three miles away. He himself went to hide in a simsim garden.

Otti entered Kony’s compound at 9:30am. As was the practice when he was meeting the chairman, he left his escorts behind and entered unarmed. He was saluted by Abudema.

“Where is our father?” he asked. “He is bathing,” Abudema replied. To which Otti said: “Let me then first go and change.” He moved to his restroom in the same compound, from where he called Kony.

“A bird died in my house. What could that mean?” he asked the chairman. “Don’t worry,” Kony replied. “That shows that we have already defeated the Government.”

Otti took the report on the September 25 meeting out of his bag and walked back to Kony’s house. He was awaited by Odhiambo, who had accompanied him from Boo, Abudema, Ocan Bunia and Agweng.

Abudema drew his pistol, pointed it at Otti and said: “You are under arrest.” The others, too, drew their pistols and aimed at Otti. Simultaneously, all the soldiers who had been deployed came out and pointed their guns at Otti. Otti was seated on a chair. Opuk moved over and removed his wristwatch and his shirt, which he used to tie him up. Abudema ordered him to sit on the floor. His shoes were taken off. He was then carried into Kony’s hut, where he was made to sit on the floor. His captors got a rope and tied him thoroughly. They tore a part of his shirt and used it to blindfold him.

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Q: How did Otti react?
A: He was pleading with them: “What wrong have I done to you? If I have done something bad, why can’t the chairman tell me? Have you forgotten all the good things I did for you?” They sent Capt. Otto Ladere to go and call Ben Accelam, who was sitting under a tree at the house of Dominic Ongwen. As Accelam entered Kony’s compound, he, too was put at gunpoint and tied up. He was then taken into another hut in the same compound. The third person called in was Alfred Otim. He, too, was arrested, beaten and tied. His arrestors hurled insults at him.

“You, people from Atiak, you always tell everybody that you are bright. Today we shall see where your intelligence will take you.” At that point, Kony called Abudema on satellite phone. “Are these people all there? Have you arrested them?” he asked.

Abudema confirmed that the arrests had been made. Kony then asked to talk to Odhiambo. He told him he did not want to hear Otti’s name again. “They should all be killed. And you must do it without delay. If not, you will be the next victims,” he told him. As Odhiambo got the instructions, he relayed them to Abudema as Kony listened. The cloth was removed from Otti’s eyes. The three were taken out of Kony’s compound, some 300m behind the defence. Otti was stood against a tree. Acellam and Otim were taken to a different position, 50m away. Capt. Ogwal and Capt. Okumu Dombolo, each holding a PKM, took up position in front of Otti, while Angwen and 2nd Lt. Tabu Omoro faced the other two. Odhiambo pretended to sympathise with Otti. “What has Otti done? Why don’t you also kill me?” he asked.

Q: What did Otti say?
A: He kept on begging and pleading: “What crime have I committed? Are you really going to kill me? All along, I have been so good to you and the movement. Why can’t you tell me what I did wrong? May God help you!”

When Abudema ordered: “Fire!” Otti bowed his head and started praying. Ogwal fired first. He killed him with eight bullets. Then Okumu emptied his magazine into the already dead body. Agweng started firing at the other side, after which Tabu joined in, killing Accelam and Otim. Their trousers were removed and they remained in their underpants. Kony returned from the garden later. He asked whether the job had been done. Otti’s escorts were disarmed. Kony then summoned everybody from the rank of second lieutenant for a meeting at 2:00pm.

“From today on, the indiscipline in the LRA should end,” he told us. “If I hear anybody talking about the killing of Otti and the others, that person will also be killed.” He said his rank of general was not given to him for praying but for killing. “There is no general in the world who did not kill. He then announced he was going to change all the systems in the LRA. He also instructed us not to bury Otti and the others for three days.

Q: Were they ever buried?
A: They were buried on the evening of October 4. Lt. Col. Abucingo was ordered to carry out the task, together with some kadogo (child soldiers). They were placed in one grave. One of the standby brigades was sent to Otti’s house to remove all his property.

Otti’s seven wives were taken by force and distributed to the other commanders the same day. Of the four adult wives, one was given to Abudema, one to Odhiambo, one to Okuti and one to Kony’s brother, Maj. Olanya. The three underage girls were handed over to Kony.

Q: Who else was arrested in this operation?
A: Apart from Kwoyelo, four other officers were arrested: Maj. Okot Atiak, Capt. Ojara Pope, Lt. Kidega Pak-Pala and Ben Accelam’s brother, Capt. Vincent Okema. They were still under arrest when we fled on November 7.

Q: What is Caesar Accelam’s fate?
A: Caesar Accelam was arrested in June and released on the day Otti was killed.

Q: You and Richard Odong-kau had come out earlier and received amnesty. Why did you go back? A: We did not return to fight, but to persuade the LRA fighters to come out following Otti’s call to prepare for peace talks. When we came out the first time, Otti got in touch with us. He wanted to talk to Rwot Acana and Bishop Odama to initiate peace talks with the Government. He also wanted to find out what the Amnesty Act was about. We contacted the Rwot and Bishop Odama, who put us in touch with the chairman of the Amnesty Commission.

We were also connected to Riek Machar, who sent us to Kony with a letter. This led to the first meeting between Machar and Otti in April 2006 and the second with Kony in May. After that meeting, Kony said: “Remain here and tell us what is going on.” We were co-ordinating the peace talks. From the beginning of the talks, Otti had said he was willing to bring all the fighters home.

Q: Will Kony ever sign a peace deal?
A: Signing from where? Otti was the one who persuaded him to go to Ri-Kwangba. He was also the one who pushed him to meet UN special envoy Joachim Chissano. At every assembly, Kony feared he would be killed. He would sit in every meeting with his pistol cocked.

Q: What is the future of the peace talks?

A: I am very skeptical. There are many events happening. Ban Ki-Moon (UN Secretary General) is calling for the arrest of Kony. And Otti is dead. He was the man behind the peace talks. He was the one who persuaded Kony.

Q: What is the situation like in the LRA camp after Otti’s death?
A: People are fearful, demoralised and disturbed. They had hope in Otti. They believed Otti would take them back home.

 

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