Kitgum — The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander, Joseph Kony, is increasingly amassing resources through lucrative deals in ivory from the DR Congo, a defector has said.
Mr Patrick Kidega, 32, who has been in the rebel ranks for 16 years but defected in December last year from the Central African Republic (CAR), says the elusive rebel leader is killing elephants for their precious tasks and selling them to Arabs to finance his operations.
The former LRA abductee says he was among 15 fighters frequently sent in the last three years to kill elephants in the dense Garamba National Park in DR Congo.
Kidega told Daily Monitor in an interview on Monday that Kony has been issuing such orders since 2013 from Dafac, near South Darfur in South Sudan.
"The orders were very strict, he [Kony] wanted Ivory at all cost and we needed to do everything possible to get them to him. We were 35 in our group under commander Odoki Gwe; assigned for the dangerous mission," Mr Kidega said.
He said the journey would sometimes take up to four months between their base at Dafac to Garamba.
Kidega says the mission was to kill as many elephants as possible to harvest their ivory but sometimes they were challenged by their limited numbers.
More than 100 elephants killed
He says in the three years that Kony sent them on the mission, they were able to kill more than 100 elephants in Garamba and all the ivory was delivered to Kony.
"When the ivory are brought to Kony's hideout in South Sudan, he later trades them to Arab businessmen for guns, food, and ammunition for his rebels and medical supplies" Kidega says.
He adds that although Kony has only few fighters under his command, the warlord is also engaged in gold and diamond deals, which keep him afloat.
Kony is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
A 2015 report released by Enough Project, states that the LRA rebels transport the poached ivory through DR Congo, CAR and pass them onto Sudanese merchants and at times passing them directly to Sudan armed forces officers.
The report further says the ivory is then likely transferred to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where it is mainly exported, most frequently to Asia.
Kidega was abducted at the age of only 16 while in Primary Five from his ancestral village in Lararaka, Palwo Parish, Omiya-Anyima Sub-county in Kitgum District, in 2002.
He defected to CAR government soldiers in November last year from Mboki in Obbo before Pathways to Peace- Uganda, a non-governmental organisation, traced and reunited him and other former LRA combatants with their families in Uganda in January this year.
Kidega spent a month at Central Protection Unit in Gulu Town undergoing counselling and psychosocial support before being reunited with his family in Kitgum District on Monday.
"I am grateful to see my family members after 16 years, I thank the government for ensuring that I safely reach home," Kidega says.
Kidega's mother, Ms Irene Ayaa, 46, says she had lost all hopes of ever seeing her son.
"I can't believe he is back home after such a long time; this is God's miracle," she says.
Mr David Ocitti Okech, the Pathways to Peace-Uganda programme director, says they have so far reintegrated 47 of 87 recued LRA captives with their families since 2014.