African Press International (API)

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Danger for outbreak of war – DRC – Uganda border

Posted by African Press International on January 27, 2008

Kampala (Uganda) A proposed military strike on the Lords Resistance Army, LRA, base in the Democratic Republic of Congo could lead to a fresh outbreak of war, say opposition politicians.

Plans for an attack on LRA leader Joseph Kony and his fighters first surfaced after Kinshasa and Kampala signed an agreement to force the rebels out of Garamba Park in the DRC if a peace deal was not signed by January 31. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his DRC counterpart Joseph Kabila signed the agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, last September, which outlined a plan for the attack. Their proposal appears to have grown out of frustration with peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan authorities in South Sudans capital of Juba, which were suspended in November last year.

The LRA has been based in Garamba since they left their former bases in southern Sudan in 2004. From there, Kony has coordinated a team of peace negotiators in Juba since July 2006. Kony and his top commanders have evaded arrest since warrants were issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague. They are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, w hich were mainly alleged to have been committed in 2003 and 2004. According to reports, LRA deputy commander Vincent Otti was executed by fellow LRA officers at Konys home in October 2007.

The proposed strike, which apparently would be conducted by Congolese and United Nations forces, has elicited sharp criticism from leaders and parliamentarians in war-ravaged northern Uganda.
Morris Ogenga Latigo, leader of the political opposition in Uganda, told IWPR that the plan to hit Kony was totally unreasonable and reckless posturing. Rather than speed up the peace process, it could backfire, he said. According to Latigo, there are reports that some LRA members had already left the base.

There is a rumour that elements of the LRA are already in the northern Ugandan district of Pader, he said. People who have gone hunting in Palabek in the Kitgum district have encountered the LRA, but [the rebels] did not harm them. Critics of the planned attack have compared it to Operation Iron Fist – the 2002 offensive of Ugandan army forces, UPDF, against the LRA camps in Southern Sudan. At the time, many said this attack only intensified the war in northern Uganda, which reached its peak in 2004.

We advised government against it, but they did not listen, said Latigo. This operation only escalated the rebellion. Latigo, who is from the Acholi north of the country, doubts whether an attack on the rebels headquarters would result in Konys capture. He noted that the LRA leader had already managed to evade capture both in northern Uganda and in Southern Sudan.
That part of the DRC is totally uninhabited by the Kabila government. It is a thick forest and there is no road infrastructure, he said. Those planning to attack will be vulnerable to ambushes and will not be able to transport military equipment.

If Kony could not be defeated in northern Uganda, how about the vast DRC? Member of parliament from the Acholi north Reagan Okumu is also sceptical, and believes the authorities should persevere with the peace talks. “Because a military solution has failed for the last 21 years, we thought that the peace process is the only [thing] we should pursue,” he said. Okumu believes a strike would also endanger the children who have been abducted by the LRA. They will be killed if there is a military strike. As leaders, we are demanding that both Museveni and Kony must return to the negotiating table in Juba.”

According to Okumu, many people in the north fear that the attack may “provoke Kony to launch fresh attacks in northern Uganda”. Bosco Otim, an Acholi living in Kampala, expressed fear that a strike against Kony could end the peace talks altogether. “Why can’t we exhaust the Juba peace process? asked Otim. We have suffered for many years. The government should give the Juba talks a chance – otherwise Kony will return and wreak havoc.” The peace that settled across northern Uganda since the talks began in July 2006 would be destroyed, he said, and most of the 1.8 million internal refugees would have to return to camps across the north of the country.

UPDF spokesperson Captain Paddy Ankunda told IWPR that a raid on Konys DRC base had been agreed between Ugandan and Congo military officials on January 4 and that the strike would take place by January 31. “If Kony does not relocate to Ri-Kwangba, then a joint UN mission and DRC force will attack him,” confirmed Ankunda. Although Kony agreed in 2006 to gather his forces at Ri-Kwangba – the assembly point on the Sudan-Congo border – to date the LRA remains in Garamba Park. “Kony is not a man who can embrace peace without pressure,” said Ankunda, who fought against the LRA in northern Uganda.

“If we don’t exert military pressure, Kony will just stay in Garamba,” said Ankunda. “This is why he killed Vincent Otti. Otti was committed to a peace deal.” Ankunda discounted fears that without the element of surprise, the DRC army, which recently has suffered defeats at the hands of other militias in the country, will be no match for Kony’s battle-hardened fighters. “Kony has no where to run,” said Ankunda. While some LRA forces traveled on foot to the Central African Republic in 2007 – in a move that some rebel defectors said was part of Konys plan to escape – they returned after several weeks. Any attempt to try this again could be blocked by a recent agreement between Museveni and CAR president Francois Bozize.

An intelligence source in Uganda, who claimed to have infiltrated LRA ranks, told IWPR under conditions of anonymity that Kony had run of options. “He now has no choice but to move to Ri-Kwangba,” said the source, although he did not explain why. Ugandas foreign affair minister Henry Okello Oryem, who is also deputy head of the Ugandan negotiating team at the peace talks, said that the government remained committed to the negotiations But a resumption of talks and an eventual peace deal seem increasingly doubtful.

*Emma Mutaizibwa is an IWPR journalist in Kampala


Lifted and published by Korir, API source.Institute of war and peace

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