A Lord's Resistance Army commander captured at the weekend is eligible to apply for amnesty, a Ugandan government legal adviser said on Tuesday, but a United Nations official said Caesar Achellam should face justice for the group's brutality.
The Ugandan army's capture of Achellam, one of the LRA's top five members, raised hopes it is closer to catching Joseph Kony, the rebel leader accused of war crimes for his group's near three-decade campaign of child abductions, rape and mutilation.
The international manhunt for Kony was thrust back into the spotlight in March after a video "Kony 2012" went viral on the Internet and was watched by almost 90 million people.
Nathan Twinomugisha, the chief legal adviser to the Uganda Amnesty Commission, said Achellam, once considered one of Kony's most trusted lieutenants, could seek a pardon under the east African country's amnesty law.
"There's absolutely nothing that prevents Achellam from being considered for amnesty. He's eligible," Twinomugisha told Reuters.
The U.N. Secretary-General's representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said on Monday: "I am encouraged by the capture of one of the worst perpetrators of child rights violations and hope the Ugandan authorities would not apply amnesty but instead bring him to justice."
Uganda's military said it ambushed Achellam on Saturday. But the fact that he was with his wife and daughter and armed only with an automatic rifle and eight rounds of ammunition has prompted speculation in Uganda that he may have defected and cut a deal with the army.
"We will have to discuss with the director of public prosecutions but the law favours him and as soon as he applies we'll promptly consider his case," Twinomugisha said. While considered one of the LRA's commanders, Achellam is not among those facing international war crimes charges.
Uganda's army said Achellam's capture brought it a step closer to snaring Kony, an operation boosted last year by the deployment of about 100 U.S. special forces to help track him down.
Kony, however, is a master of evasion and the hunt covers an area the size of California in dense equatorial jungle spanning several countries.
It remains unclear how close Achellam was to Kony in recent times. Kony has kidnapped tens of thousands of children to fill the ranks of the LRA or use as sex slaves as he moves through the bush. Thousands have been killed by his army.
The self-styled mystic was once intent on ruling Uganda by the biblical Ten Commandments. His combatants are now estimated to number about 200. Since Uganda passed its Amnesty Act in 2000, some 13,000 former LRA fighters have been pardoned, Twinomugisha said, including those captured in battle.
Achellam, a Major General within the LRA's internally respected military structure, would be the highest-ranking rebel to be granted amnesty.
The government, though, has appeared reluctant to forgive some senior combatants, including Thomas Kwoyelo, who was seized in Congo in 2009 and remains imprisoned waiting for the government to hear his amnesty request.