View of the Central African Republic jungle
Ugandan troops have captured a senior member of the Lord's Resistance Army in a milestone arrest that could signal they are closing in on notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony.
Caesar Acellam, considered the LRA's fourth-highest ranking member, was arrested by Ugandan forces in Central African Republic and was flown Sunday to the South Sudanese headquarters of the regional armies hunting the LRA.
"My coming out will have a big impact for the people still in the bush to come out and end this war soon," Acellam told reporters who were taken to the Central African Republic to see the rebel in custody.
The Ugandan army is leading a US-backed African Union force tasked with capturing the LRA's leaders, several of whom are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Acellam, aged 49, a tall man walking with a limp from an old wound, was flown to the base in the South Sudanese town of Nzara, at the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, for medical checkups.
Acellam was captured Saturday and made available a day later at a Uganda army camp to confirm his arrest following a brief firefight near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The general of the division, Caesar Acellam, who has fought in the jungle since 1984, is from now on in the hands of the Ugandan Army," Acellam told reporters, referring to himself in the third person.
The LRA's top three commanders are Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Kony. All are at large and wanted by the International Criminal Court along with another man, Vincent Otti, who is however thought to be dead.
"He's a big fish," Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said of Acellam, who was captured along with a Ugandan woman, a Central African teenager and a baby. None of them was hurt in the arrest.
"The fact that Caesar Acellam is prisoner is a major step for us towards ending the rebellion," Kulayigye said.
Ugandan army units had reportedly waited in ambush for three weeks for the rebel after they tracked his group of around 30 fighters, army sources said.
However, Acellam split from his men a few days ago, for reasons that were not immediately clear. He surrendered after the army fired a few shots.
Kony started his rebellion in northern Uganda more than two decades ago, but has since been chased to the jungles of neighbouring central African states.
The LRA has since been wrecking havoc in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kony's global notoriety soared over the past year through Internet video campaign "Kony 2012" which has been watched tens of millions of times since it was posted online by the US advocacy group Invisible Children.
The video was criticised by some who said it oversimplified the root causes of the LRA's devastating insurgency.
Kony is wanted by the ICC for rape, mutilation and murder of civilians, as well as forcibly recruiting children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.
A multi-national force, led by Uganda and helped by 100 US Special Forces, has been chasing Kony in Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Joseph Balikudembe, commander in chief of the Uganda operation, recently said the combination of US military aid, the weakening of the LRA and Kampala's efforts in hunting them would lead to their elimination.
The ICC's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on May 10 that Kony would be captured or killed this year, although he did not specify why he felt the elusive rebel leader would finally be found.
A day later, a top UN envoy said hunters were closing in on the African guerilla leader who may now be in Darfur.