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Surrender of rebel raises hope of peace in Uganda

The personal secretary to Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda has surrendered to government troops, raising hopes that other senior commanders will desert Kony's rebel group.

Jackson Achama, 43, agreed to return to Uganda along with his four "wives", seven children, and various LRA fighters, after living for more than 15 years in the bush.

He flew into the airstrip in Gulu, northern Uganda, from Juba in south Sudan, where he had given himself up to Sudanese government forces.

The cult-like LRA has waged an 18-year-old war against the government of President Yoweri Museveni. It routinely targets civilians, slicing off the lips and ears of its victims, and has abducted tens of thousands of children to serve as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

"I have suffered for long enough. My family and I pretended we were going to cultivate the fields and escaped," Achama said. "I believe in peace, and want to help stop the fighting in our country."

Achama had worked closely with Kony and had acted as his spokesman in negotiations, but he fell out of favour after he lost a leg in battle and tried unsuccessfully to escape four years ago.

He is the latest commander to take advantage of a government amnesty that allows LRA fighters - usually abducted as children themselves - to return to Uganda without facing prosecution for war crimes. The amnesty is designed to encourage LRA's senior commanders to desert Kony.

In the past two months alone, 12 LRA commanders have surrendered in northern Uganda, and Achama told the Ugandan army that several more of his colleagues were also trying to escape.

But he added that Kony, who is hiding near army bases in Nsitu, south Sudan, is unlikely to ever hand himself in.

"Kony will gain nothing by surrendering. He keeps his family and his favourite wives and fighters near him all the time, and makes sure that they will never escape," he said.

The Ugandan government has written to the Sudanese Defence Minister to inform him that Kony is operating in his country.

Achama's wives, who were forced to marry him after being abducted as teenagers, have yet to decide whether to stay with him or return to their communities.