Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Crisis Group: LRA Rebels in Northern Uganda Reorganizing, Stepping up Attacks on Civilians

Note this copy of a news report at politico.com, Kampala/Brussels April 12, 2005:

The peace process aimed at ending Northern Uganda's extraordinarily brutal eighteen-year war is in critical condition, but it may still be possible to resuscitate it if the Ugandan government and international community act decisively, a leading peace advocacy organization says.

The latest report from the Brussel-based International Crisis Group (ICG) on the peace prospects in Northern Uganda, released Monday, says the insurgent Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has recently stepped up the scale and frequency of its horrific attacks on civilians.

The Organization calls for Ugandan government mediator Betty Bigombe to present a new, comprehensive peace proposal directly to LRA chief Joseph Kony. If such a proposal is to be credible, however, it will require increased support from the European troika of Norway, the UK and the Netherlands and a more engaged United States, the report says.

"Kony won't agree to and implement a ceasefire that ignores the LRA's two central concerns -- the physical security and livelihoods of LRA members after any settlement", says John Prendergast, Special Adviser to the President of Crisis Group. "If the government really wants to make this work, it will have to replace its ceasefire-first approach with a deal that includes appropriate security guarantees for Kony and his commanders, and a peace dividend to help rebuild war-ravaged communities".

Although the LRA has been hurt by the improved performance of the Ugandan military, reduced support from the Sudanese government, and pressure from the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation, reports of the insurgency's death are greatly exaggerated, the International Crisis Group says.

The organization says that from a base in Southern Sudan, the LRA leadership is reorganizing for intensified conflict and has launched an aggressive campaign of abductions, mutilations, and raids on arms depots. Atrocities include kidnapping of children to turn them into LRA fighters and cutting off the lips, ears and breasts of women who were caught while gathering firewood or drawing water from wells in Northern Uganda.

In February, the government decided not to extend its unilateral, limited ceasefire after the LRA failed to demonstrate goodwill.

The International Crisis Group says the Ugandan government appears to be losing patience with mediation efforts, refocusing instead on a military solution and expanding efforts to target LRA leaders.

"Given the attitudes of the parties, the peace process will disintegrate without more vigorous, sustained international, particularly U.S., support", says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "If this chance slips away, the people of Northern Uganda will be condemned to more violence and abductions -- for who knows how much longer".

The Lord's Resistance Army has been fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government since 1987, displacing more than one million people in the north. The rebels routinely attack civilians and kidnap children for forced labor as soldiers and sex slaves.

The International Criminal Court is prepared to issue warrants against LRA leaders suspected of committing crimes against humanity, a step that if not handled carefully could drive the rebels definitively out of the peace process. However, ICC officials are well aware of the risk and are undertaking activities which have increased mutual understanding with Northern Ugandan civil society.


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