Ugandan LRA finds safe haven in troubled Darfur
Opinion piece by Steve Paterno
March 17, 2010 — Finally, collaborated reliable sources have confirmed the arrival of a notorious Ugandan rebel armed group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the Sudanese troubled region of Darfur. Since late last year, the LRA attempts to relocate into Darfur has been the subject of speculations. The LRA, known for its brutalities against civilians, is a terrorist outfit that originated in Northern Uganda and found sponsorship in a dictatorial Sudanese regime in Khartoum. However, by 2005, after a landmark agreement signed between the Sudanese regime in Khartoum, and the Southern based, Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), the relationship between the LRA and Khartoum regime was somehow in jeopardy, as both could not have a direct geographical link with one another and to continue on with their cozy relationship. The LRA, which was left without bases or direct support, resorted into survival instincts. It bought time by a phony negotiation of a peace deal with Ugandan government under the auspicious of South Sudan government; and that period of peace negotiation (2006-2008), the LRA managed to regroup, kidnap, recruit, and then went on killing and looting spree, theorizing civilians in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with occasionally foray into Central African Republic (CAR). In December of 2008, the armies of Uganda, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo launched joint-operations against the LRA hideouts and positions in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. The offensive destroyed all of their bases, disrupted command and structure, and decimated much of their fighting forces, whereby the ruminants of its ragtag fighters split into smaller units.
The LRA remnants, led by its top leadership, moved-on with aim to establish bases in Central African Republic. However, the Ugandan army, permitted by the authorities of Central African Republic continued chasing the LRA, deep inside the country. By late 2009, the sightings of LRA, marking their brutal modus operandi, were reported in Western Behr al-Ghazel region of South Sudan, the region, which borders, Central African Republic and South Darfur. In statement issued by spokesperson of South Sudan army, the LRA encountered the South Sudanese army at Kor Medina in Raga County. In that incident, the LRA were reported to have made away with a bunch of loots, killing several, and kidnapping unidentified number of civilians. By then, the Ugandan army admitted that the LRA internationally indicted leader, Joseph Kony was believed to be somewhere on a move in Western Behr al-Ghazel region. Even though all the information was denied by both Khartoum regime and LRA, a recent report by a Washington advocacy based group, Enough Project—citing field research, confirms that indeed, “LRA units have reached South Darfur.”
The recent news about LRA linking-up with its longtime sponsor in Khartoum through Darfur region, has drawn a fury of rebuttals from both LRA's and Khartoum's camps. Despite the denials, a lot is left to be desired. A news report by AlertNet, attributed to a one LRA Colonel Michael Anywar—purportedly acting as LRA liaison military officer—describes the news of LRA presence in Darfur as a “fabrication.” The Khartoum regime through its missions abroad even went wilder. Its embassy in the USA blamed those who believe that the LRA are in Darfur to have lacked common sense and understanding “of fundamental knowledge of the geography of the region.” And, this talking point sounds exactly as if it is picked right from the pages of army's spokesperson in Khartoum. In his statement, the regime's army's spokesperson in Khartoum, Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa'ad, indicated that the LRA are used to fighting in the forest, therefore, they could not be in Darfur as there is no forest in Darfur.
The repudiations from Khartoum missions abroad and its army spokesperson are not just wrong in many respects, but playing ignorance to fool everyone. First, there are forests in parts of Darfur, specifically the areas where the LRA are currently located: that includes the vast biosphere region of Radom National Park in South Darfur state. The LRA presences in the region extend to areas such as Kafia Kingi and Dongo. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Radom National Park can host about any kind of creatures on this planet earth, including LRA and armies from Khartoum. The region contains two permanent rivers, perfect for sustaining livelihood. Currently, it is none other than Khartoum military, which is supporting the LRA in the places mentioned above. Secondly, as a professional soldier, one expects that the Khartoum army spokesperson knows that soldiers and armed rebels are trained to fight and survive or adapt to any weather, climatic conditions and terrain. Thirdly, the reason of LRA trek to Darfur is to connect with its sponsor in Khartoum, mainly the Khartoum armed forces. Fourthly, LRA has been a proxy force to fight against Khartoum's enemies, and that mission has not changed. There are many enough reasons to invalidate the rebuttals put out by Khartoum.
Locally, the South Sudanese army, which has been for long reluctant to take on LRA seriously, has recently put an alert out in an event of possible LRA disruptive activities in South Sudan region, as the country prepares for the upcoming elections. Hopefully, any would be LRA activities in South Sudan will be stopped. Internationally, the LRA ongoing atrocities has caught the attention of the USA government. The USA Senate has just passed a bipartisan legislation intended to deal away with the LRA menace once and for all. The legislation is yet to pass the USA House of Representative, in order for it to become an effective tool to fight off the LRA. Of course, the Ugandan army, which has been in a hot pursuit of the LRA, cannot cross into Darfur region. It also remain to be seen if a coordinated strategic approach—involving the UN peacekeeping in the region, and the regional governments, including Khartoum—could be drawn to stop the LRA terrorist activities in the region. In all, it seems, the LRA will continue with its terrorist mission, this time, using an already troubled region as a launching pad.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org