DJEMA, Central African Republic – Ugandan forces captured a senior commander of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army after a brief fight with rebels near the Congo-Central African Republic border, an army official said, in what an analyst said was an "intelligence coup" for forces hunting for Kony.
Lt. Col. Abdul Rugumayo, intelligence chief for Uganda's military operation against the LRA, said Sunday that Caesar Acellam was captured Saturday with two other rebel fighters as they tried to cross a river called Mbomu.
Although Acellam is not one of the LRA commanders indicted along with Kony in 2005 by the International Criminal Court, Ugandan officials say he was one of Kony's top military strategists and a reliable fighter.
"He is in good condition," Rugumayo said of Acellam. "He was captured with two other rebels. They were in a group of 30 rebels."
He said the others escaped.
Details of precisely how Acellam was captured were not available, but some analysts said it was possible he had just walked into the hands of Ugandan army officials.
"He's been on the defection shelf for a long time," said Angelo Izama, a political analyst with the Kampala-based security think tank Fanaka Kwawote. "This is a big intelligence coup for the Ugandan army."
A Ugandan army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said losing Acellam was a big blow to Kony, whose forces have become increasingly degraded by a lack of food and having to constantly move to elude capture.
"He is big fish, very big fish," the official said of Acellam, who has been with the LRA for over 20 years. "He is one of the top division commanders."
The official said Kony, who Ugandan officials suspect to be hiding somewhere in Sudan, has traditionally lived in bush camps significantly far from where his top commanders hide, apparently as a security precaution.
"Kony does not want his commanders near him," he said. "He wants to be alone."
Kony recently became the focus of international attention after the U.S. advocacy group Invisible Children made an online video seeking to make him famous. In 2005 the ICC indicted Kony, along with four other LRA commanders, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Two of them have since died.
Last year U.S. President Barack Obama sent 100 troops to help regional governments eliminate the LRA. But the manhunt for LRA leaders has proved tough, with the rebels moving in very small groups and avoiding technology. Encounters between Ugandan troops and the rebels are very rare.
Only about 200 LRA members remain the jungle, according to Ugandan officials.