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Uganda: Rebels wreak havoc in region

NewsNotes, March-April 2009

“At around 5 a.m. the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] came, moving from house to house and collecting people. They selected two men, smeared them with palm oil, closed them in a hut and set it on fire. The LRA tied men and women and beat them. Some were killed; others, including children from 10 years onwards, were forced to go with them and carry the food the LRA had looted from them. The food they could not carry was burnt.” (Testimony of Congolese refugee in southern Sudan, recorded by a Comboni sister)

A recent analysis by the Genocide Intervention Network calls the rate of deliberate killing of civilians by the LRA in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan over the last few months among the highest in the world today, worse than Darfur and Somalia, possibly even Iraq.

ResolveUganda writes, “It can sometimes be difficult to put a human face on events unfolding half a world away. This is especially true in the remote regions of Sudan and the DR Congo affected by LRA attacks escalating in the context of ‘Operation Lightning Thunder,’ an offensive involving Uganda, South Sudan and the DR Congo against the LRA. The grisly picture became a little clearer with the release of The Christmas massacres: LRA attacks on civilians in Northern Congo by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that documents the attacks and exposes the unacceptable ways that civilians were left unprotected from LRA violence sparked by the ongoing military offensive against the rebels.”

According to ResolveUganda, while USAID disbursed $800,000 to UNICEF to help protect children in the DRC affected by LRA violence and to support reunification of separated families and services for victims of sexual violence, the U.S. has given little indication that ending the LRA violence is a priority, even as it continues to defend its support for the Uganda-led operation that sparked the latest rebel attacks. Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, a longtime diplomat and AFRICOM deputy who reports directly to commander Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, defended the U.S.-supported offensive against the LRA and said that the mid-December attack on the LRA also has diminished the rebel group’s ability to abduct children who are forced to serve as fighters. (Stars and Stripes, Feb. 14, 2009)

Ugandan army spokesman Capt. Deo Akiiki also defended the offensive, which he said succeeded in destroying rebel base camps and food supplies.

Many humanitarian and human rights groups have been highly critical of the offensive, arguing that not enough was done to protect civilians from the LRA rebels, who “hacked, bludgeoned and bayoneted their way through nearby villages as they fled the joint military operation involving troops from Congo, Uganda and Sudan.” (Stars and Stripes)

The report from HRW documents over 850 civilians killed and over 150 children abducted by the LRA since December 2008 and calls for more UN peacekeepers to be deployed in areas affected by the violence.

In a Feb. 17 UN Security Council communiqué, John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, said that the LRA had reacted to the military operations by the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) and the Armed Forces of the DR Congo (FARDC) by mounting “horrific and unprovoked attacks” against civilians. The so-called Christmas massacres triggered a wave of displacement, and the casual brutality and total disregard for human life were appalling. Many women were raped before being killed, and 160,000 people were estimated to have fled their homes.

The Northern Uganda Advocacy Partnership for Peace (NUAPP) in Britain, a coalition including World Vision UK, Christian Aid, and Conciliation Resources, urges that the international community ensure that the path to a peaceful solution remains clear. “The Juba Peace Process,” NUAPP said, “has brought significant gains in terms of addressing the roots of the conflict, dealing with the complex issues of justice and reconciliation and the creation of a more secure environment in northern Uganda, leading to the return of 1.3 million formerly-displaced people. The UN Security Council is encouraged to continue its support to Joachim Chissano, [former Mozambique president, who was a key player in the Juba peace talks] and to explore creative ways of reinvigorating the peace process, with or without the mediation of the government of Southern Sudan. Essential mediation infrastructure (such as the cessation of hostilities monitoring team) which has been disbanded needs to be reconstituted or replaced. The government of Uganda is encouraged to continue implementing the Juba Agenda Agreements, including its provisions to establish a Special Division of the High Court and to create a comprehensive judicial system, which is intended to deal with the complexities of the ICC indictments and the traditional justice system.”

Faith in action:

Write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the United States to give high priority to Africa’s Great Lakes region and to the greater Horn of Africa by assigning a senior diplomat as special envoy to the region and giving maximum support to the Juba peace process and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Accords in Sudan. The U.S. should contribute to the protection of civilians in the region and to processes of reconstruction and stabilization.

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