Is UPDF about to attack Kony’s Congo camps?
December 07, 2008 article from the Monitor by Tabu Butagira and Risdel Kasasira in Kampala, Uganda:
Last week’s refusal by Lords Resistance Army rebel leader, Joseph Kony to sign a peace deal with Uganda government could give him safer days in the bush, but the trick could soon backfire to trouble, if not a pre-emptive strike against the insurgents amid pronounced shifts in regional geo-politics.Cross posted to Congo Watch.
Analysts say Uganda has a number of options to deal with the rebels hiding in Garamba, the DR Congo. One such proposal, that Kampala appears to be considering seriously, is to confront Kony and his fighters militarily or rally regional neighbours for a joint offensive.
Dr Simba Kayunga, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, suggests though that since a scattered LRA, very distant from Uganda’s borders poses no direct threat to the country; they could as well be ignored.
“Instead of chasing for the signature of Kony, I think the best thing for government to do is address the fundamental political grievances that produced the rebellion,” said Dr Kayunga.
Pundits fear that Kony could use the present cessation of hostilities to recruit and re-arm, and return with a more lethal force to terrorise northern Uganda.
Dr Kayunga said war-affected areas should be rebuilt and national jobs/resources allocated in a way that makes disaffected societies feel accepted as part of the incumbent government and Uganda.
It is understood this approach will eliminate pockets of internal discontent and deny any overt or covert indigenous support to the LRA, who have fought President Museveni’s government for the last 20 years.
But radicals within government want quick war. Anti-Personnel Carriers (APCs) and other armoured vehicles that have been idle at the UPDF 4 Division headquarters were early this week serviced and driven around Gulu town, causing tension among civilians.
A group of soldiers in Koboko are reported to be undergoing ‘refresher drills’ near Oraba border post. Col. Sam Kavuma, the commanding officer of the Pader-based UPDF 5 Division has met a joint team of senior security officers, and a press statement issued after the sitting said Uganda was set to tackle the LRA. The officers, sources say, were drawn from the core of the command that will lead what is increasingly looking like the next violent phase in the two-decade conflict.
This paper has heard that the military has intensified security reconnaissance along the porous frontier with Sudan and DRC after Kony, for the fourth time this year, refused to put his signature to the Juba agreement. The army, however, says these are but just routine exercises.
The United States has joined the fray, expressing “disappointment” over the failure by Kony to sign the Final Peace Agreement as scheduled on November 29, suggesting that pursuing negotiations with the LRA is now a futile exercise.
Mr Steven Browning, the US Ambassador to Uganda, said: “This latest failure to sign, combined with recent atrocities committed by the LRA in eastern Congo, indicate that the LRA leadership is not committed to peace. This in turn calls into question the value of continuing the efforts of regional and international facilitators to advance the Juba peace process.”
The Friday statement, sent in reply to inquiries by Sunday Monitor, called on the rebels to immediately halt brutal attacks on civilian targets in the DRC and Western Equatoria State of Sudan, that have suffered the brunt of bloody LRA attacks in the past several months.
“The US continues to encourage the governments of Uganda, the DRC, and southern Sudan to consult together on resolving the LRA issue,” said Mr Browning.
Incidentally, the Tri-partite Plus regional grouping, comprising Rwanda, Uganda, the DRC and Burundi starts meeting tomorrow in Kigali to devise a common strategy to handle the LRA, a group that is believed to have the capacity to destabilise the entire region.
These countries, that ironically are political foes of sorts, will be carrying their differences to the negotiating table. This may impinge on consensus.
It is, however, telling that in writing off continued peace talks, Ambassador Browning appears to revive the push for a military option that Ms Jendayi Frazer, the top American diplomat for Africa, advanced earlier this year.
Uganda is sending State Defence Minister, Ruth Nankabirwa to lobby unconditional support of the neighbouring countries for military action. This would help the country, build an agreeable case for stern action against LRA based on regional consensus, when Mr Joacqim Chissano, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for LRA war-affected areas, briefs the Security Council later this month.
Ms Nankabirwa said Uganda cannot yet attack Kony in Garamba without authorisation by regional neighbours, particularly President Joseph Kabila’s regime and the Khartoum government.
“We cannot do this (attack) alone, it must be done with the consent of other members because the LRA rebels are hiding in Congo,” she said, adding, “President Museveni is in touch with the Presidents of Rwanda, DRC, Burundi and Southern Sudan to come up with a common position on Kony.”
But the UK, one of Uganda’s key development partners, appears reluctant to support a military campaign against the rebels, which is not endorsed by the United Nations.
The British High Commission in Kampala said, “The UK is a strong supporter of the Juba process.
We regret that, despite commitments, the LRA have not signed the Final Peace Agreement. Reports of the rebels attacking in the region are deeply worrying and must stop. There will be further discussions at the UN after [former] President Chissano presents his report.”
The statement sent to Sunday Monitor urged the Uganda government to fully implement the delayed Shs1 trillion Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, expected to revive the economy and spark development besides restoring State authority in war-affected northern and far eastern regions.
This may explain why the Nairobi-branch of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says Kony may continue to hibernate in Congo forests as long as his forces do not disturb Congolese or Sudanese citizens.
“If the LRA provoke hostility by causing havoc in the surrounding communities, the regional governments will collectively or unilaterally pay him in the same currency,” said Mr Xavier Ejoyi, a researcher with the think-tank.
The four truckloads of food, delivered to the rebels at the weekend when Kony promised to sign the pact, could settle the fighters, for now. But once the rations run out, they will likely resume raids, attracting immediate counter-attacks?
For now, indications from almost all quarters are that the UPDF are just about to commence a pre-emptive engagement against the LRA. The question is: will it succeed?