Coordinated action must be taken to end the long-running brutal campaign by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, leaders from the four countries affected have said.
A rare three-day meeting of 30 religious and community leaders as well as local government officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), south Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda criticised the “lack of a coordinated and comprehensive strategy” to tackle the rebels.
“The LRA is committing atrocities across very remote areas of already unstable nations,” read a joint statement following the meeting in the southern Sudanese town of Yambio, state capital of the badly affected Western Equatoria region.
Better coordination is needed, they warned, adding that “LRA atrocities give no sign whatsoever of being on the decrease.”
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in two decades of fighting since LRA chief Joseph Kony took up arms, initially against the Ugandan government.
Long since driven out of Uganda, the guerrillas have carved out a vast region of control in the dense forests of northeast DRC, south Sudan and CAR.
“DRC, Sudan and CAR all have internal conflicts that prevent them from sufficiently allocating their forces in a fight against the rebel group,” it added, calling on all national armies to work to boost troop deployment in affected areas.
“The international community has so far failed to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the LRA as a regional threat, instead addressing the crisis in a piecemeal and haphazard way in the four different countries,” it added.
The signatories demanded that UN peacekeepers be given a “greater capacity to deploy quickly” in response to attacks.
However, the leaders praised the Washington administration for passing a law in May, which commits it to develop a strategy by the end of November to end the rebel campaign of carnage.
The LRA’s acts of startling brutality — including murder, rape, and the forced conscription of children — have forced more than 25,000 people to flee their homes in south Sudan alone since January, the United Nations says.
Many thousands more have been massacred, abducted or forced from their homes in CAR and DRC by the rebels, whose chiefs are wanted by the International Criminal Court.
The leaders on Saturday also called for clarification of the Ugandan army’s role, which has led the hunt for LRA leaders across Sudan, DRC and CAR, since it launched a botched offensive following the collapse of peace talks.
The December 2008 Ugandan-led attacks smashed the rebels’ jungle hideouts in northeast DRC, but analysts suggest the LRA was tipped off and most fighters escaped beforehand, launching reprisal raids across a wide area as they fled.
The religious leaders insisted that the “preferred sustainable solution is a negotiated settlement” of the LRA crisis “after decades of failed military interventions.”
Meanwhile, reports suggest that Dominic Ongwen — the LRA’s second or third in command — has moved from DRC back to south Sudan, according to testimonies of former fighters collected by the Washington-based Enough pressure group.
Ongwen’s reported move is “worrying”, it said, with south Sudan approaching a historic vote due in January on its potential full independence.
“Sudan is preparing for a very important referendum early next year, and the LRA has a proven record of destabilising entire regions with few soldiers,” said the Enough report, released on Wednesday. (AFP)