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November-December 2011

Vol. 36, No. 6

 

N. Uganda: Obama sends troops to Central Africa

On October 12, President Obama sent a letter to Congress saying that he had deployed "the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda." The letter continued, "During the next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel. The total number of U.S. military personnel deploying for this mission is approximately 100. These forces will act as advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army]."

An October 24 statement from the Acholi Religious Leaders from Northern Uganda in response to the administration's decision said:

In response to the White House's recent announcement, we would first like to reiterate our sincere appreciation to President Obama and the American Congress for your attention to the plight of our people. We are thankful for your desire for peace and justice in the world. Your efforts to achieve reconciliation and meet humanitarian needs in LRA affected regions cannot be understated and loudly communicates that we are not forgotten.

We also, however, feel the need to express our concern over the military nature of the current strategy. As history has taught us, military intervention is not the way to resolve the LRA conflict and achieve a sustainable peace. In the past, such approaches have directly resulted in the intensification of LRA violence and the increased endangerment of civilians.

While many have lost hope in any peaceful resolution to the conflict, the reality is that the peace process, in particular the Juba peace talks which began in 2006, is responsible for the relative calm being experienced in northern Uganda today. We, therefore, strongly implore all concerned parties to prioritize and creatively explore non-violent means to resolve the conflict. Instead of relying on military intervention, let us redouble our efforts to engage in dialogue.

After years of urging U.S. attention to the very serious violence perpetrated by the LRA, Human Rights Watch welcomed the administration's decision and an October 14 press release from Resolve, Enough Project, Invisible Children, and the Voice Project said in part, "A coalition of human rights and anti-genocide NGOs welcomed the announcement today by the White House that the U.S. will be deploying military advisers to areas of central Africa decimated by Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) violence. The White House announced that the advisers will seek to assist ongoing regional efforts to protect civilians from rebel atrocities and to apprehend Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders.

"'By deploying these advisers, President Obama is showing decisive leadership to help regional governments finally bring an end to the LRA's mass atrocities,' said Paul Ronan, director of advocacy at Resolve. 'These advisers can make a positive difference on the ground by keeping civilians safe and improving military operations to apprehend the LRA's top commanders.'"

John Ashworth, an analyst who has worked for decades with the church in the region, particularly in South Sudan, where LRA violence has been devastating, wrote, "While one welcomes increased international engagement on the LRA conflict, one wonders whether military escalation is the solution. Churches have consistently called for a negotiated solution, along with increased protection and humanitarian assistance for the affected population."

In September 2010, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and Mennonite Central Committee hosted representatives of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, who came to Washington, D.C. to present recommendations from their own organizations and others in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, and Uganda as the administration's LRA strategy was being developed.

They were very clear then in their rejection of military operations against 200-300 LRA combatants across four countries and they stressed the importance of creating an environment conducive for effective peace talks, as well as the need to investigate the supply lines to the LRA.

According to the religious leaders, the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder, a military offensive against the LRA, in December 2008-January 2009, dealt a "devastating blow" to those who were still working to ensure the successful completion of peace talks at that time. The regional conflict has roots and dynamics that go beyond the LRA issue to deeper historical grievances.

We support the engagement of the Obama administration in efforts to stop Joseph Kony and the LRA from marauding in the region. We are, however, very concerned about the involvement of AFRICOM and U.S. troops in this action and will urge the administration to take the Acholi Religious Leaders' fears and recommendations seriously.

Faith in action:

Follow the activities of the LRA with the LRA Crisis Tracker, a joint venture between Invisible Children and Resolve Uganda, which provides data on attacks, killings, abductions, injuries and looting by the LRA.

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