Tuesday, April 25, 2006

East African military chiefs meet to review security progress

East African military chiefs began a three-day meeting in Nairobi on Monday to review security progress in the region ravaged by conflicts, insecurity and poverty, Xinhua reported April 24, 2006:

The East African Chiefs of Defense Staff Meeting which drew military chiefs from 12 states called on regional governments to support the Eastern Africa Standby Brigade to deal with conflicts in Sudan, northern Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and other trouble spots.

In his opening remarks, Kenya's Defense Minister Njenga Karume said the African Union (AU) is assembling a strong rapid response force to deal with conflicts and disasters on the continent.

"The African Union has formed a standby force aimed at ensuring quick intervention in conflicts arising within the continent," Karume told military chiefs from Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Mauritius, Madagascar, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania.

Karume said that under the Eastern Africa Standby Brigade, the force is meant to encourage Africans to deal with crises on their own continent, where the AU will have the authority to intervene in border wars and internal conflicts.

Kenya's Chief of General Staff, Gen. Jeremiah Kianga, decried insecurity and conflicts as major problems underpinning the continent's backwardness.

"Waging peace is the new battle cry for Africa and in that battle fields we are currently the front-line troops and we carry the hopes and aspirations of many in Africa and our region in particularly," said Gen. Kianga.

Kianga, having said Kenya had played a key role in conflict resolution in Somalia and Sudan, called for more help to make the idea a reality.

"With logistic support, troops from Africa can help immensely in resolving conflicts in the states affected by civil strife," said Kianga.

"Our sub-region has historically been one of the most conflict-prone in the continent and this has created a great yearning for peace amongst our peoples, which we must work very hard, to fulfill," he added.

About 2,000 Kenyan troops have been deployed in various parts of the world in peacekeeping missions.

Africa has standby brigades in each of the continent's five regions -- eastern, southern, western, northern and central Africa. Each brigade comprises four light infantry battalions, each with 750 personnel and 70 vehicles and a military observer unit with 120 officers.

"We have our troops in five African regions on standby to deal with civil strife and disaster occurrences in any country on the continent," said officials from the AU.

The officials said the AU would harmonize the five regional brigades to make it easy for troops get deployed to any country faced with conflict or disaster.

Kenya is part of the East Africa Stand-by Brigade, which has its headquarters in Nairobi and is operating through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

But the officials said the Nairobi meeting plans to set up a new Secretariat to be based in Nairobi to de-link conflict resolution from IGAD.

IGAD's member states include Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Rwanda and Djibouti.

The military chiefs are expected to come up with recommendations which will be approved by the defense ministers who are due to meet in Kenya's capital of Nairobi on Wednesday. Enditem Editor: Lin Li

Friday, April 21, 2006

South Sudan offers to mediate between Uganda, LRA rebels

Southern Sudanese officials have offered to mediate between the Ugandan government and rebels who have been fighting for 19 years, a Sudanese official said Thursday.

"We are in the process of bringing the two together," Riek Machar, vice president of the autonomous southern Sudan government, said in a telephone interview from the southern capital, Juba.

"We have offered to act as facilitators and if they see that we could be mediators in their talks then we will do it," Machar said, adding both sides seemed open to the overture and that peace talks could start "any time."

Ugandan officials, however, said they doubted the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, a force with no clear political agenda, was ready for peace talks.

"I don't think any previous overtures to the LRA have yielded positive results ... I don't think they are interested in dialogue," Uganda's presidential spokesman Onapito Ekomoloit said in a telephone interview.

Full report Associated Press (ST) 20 Apr 2006.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Survey reveals grinding poverty in war-affected northern Uganda

Seventy percent of the population in war-affected northern Uganda live in absolute poverty, with each adult's consumption expenditure at about 20,000 Uganda shillings (US $11) per month, according to a survey released this week. Full report IRIN 7 Apr 2006.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

US asked to arrest Ugandan-American rebel Jongomoi Okidi-Olal - The real brain behind LRA leadership?

Report at Xinhua today:

Desperate to end the northern insurgency, the Ugandan government is pressuring the United States to arrest a Ugandan-American accused of assisting the rebels.

Uganda wanted Washington and the United Nations to arrest a Ugandan-American citizen, Jongomoi Okidi-Olal, and hand him over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the state-owned New Vision daily on Sunday.

The insurgency of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have left tens of thousands people killed, 1.4 million others homeless in the last 20 years.

In September last year, deputy LRA leader Vincent Otti crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with about 400 fighters and their families.

However, Otti was forced to return to southern Sudan following a meeting between his representatives, officials from the DRC government and the UN Observer Mission in the Congo (MONUC).

Diplomatic and security sources said Okidi-Olal's role in LRA was confirmed during a meeting between LRA leaders and a DRC Ninth Regional Commander, who was accompanied by MONUC officials.

When the commander talked to Kony by satellite phone, the rebel leader asserted that LRA's entry into the Congo was a result of negotiations between LRA's New York representative (Okidi-Olal) and Congolese officials.

Kony gave MONUC officials Okidi-Olal's telephone number.

Okidi-Olal was also attacked by The Philadelphia Inquirer last month as being a Kony supporter as the paper accused U.S. officials of dealing with a person "with iffy links and motives."

In response to the media report, Kemal Saiki, MONUC's director of public relations, said when the LRA entered the DRC, its commanders gave the UN mission a phone number answered by a man claiming to be Kony.

Kony referred "all discussions about the infiltration of LRA in the DRC to 'our leader' in Washington and gave his phone contact."

Okidi-Olal answered that phone number.

Security sources said when contacted by UN officials, Okidi-Olal admitted links to LRA but said that he was "only a messenger" and that he was committed to seeing an end to the LRA war.

A diplomatic source said Uganda has repeatedly asked the Bush administration and the UN to arrest Okidi-Olal because he is considered to be "the real brain behind LRA leadership." Enditem

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Uganda rebel 'terror' appals UN

The activities of rebels in northern Uganda are "terrorism of the worst kind anywhere in the world", UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland has said.

Security must be improved in the region where Lord's Resistance Army rebels abduct children and carry out attacks, he said while visiting Pader district.

Mr Egeland urged the Ugandan government and international community to do more to end the humanitarian crisis.

Almost two million people have been displaced during 20 years of civil war. Full report (BBC) 1 Apr 2006.