The Juba Peace Talks look unmistakenly failed. The past 20 days the government has renewed its military offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army, together – it claims – with the Congolese and South Sudanese military. According to the government, the attacks were aimed at forcing Kony back to the negotiating table, after having failed to sign the peace agreement five times. Well, Operation Lightening Thunder did not compel Kony back to the Peace Talks; I am not sure anyone believed they ever would.
The UPDF, the national army, have hit various LRA camps in the heavily forested Garamba National Park in north eastern DR Congo, but somehow Joseph Kony and his fellow insurgents seem to leave these camps in good time. Rather than divine intervention, it is, of course, likely that the LRA is assisted by a source of insider information about any forthcoming attacks. The UPDF says today that they have killed 13 insurgents in total. The media has not been allowed access to the sites, so there has been no independent verification of events.
Independently verified has, however, been LRA’s retaliatory attacks on civilians. Which is probably the most worrying aspect of the renewed war between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The latter has attacked a number of villages in South Sudan, DR Congo and in the area bordering the Central African Republic; last week 45 people were massacred in a church 10 kms from the town of Doruma in DRC.
It is difficult to get a clear overview of the figures involved. Aid agencies estimate that over 400 civilians have been killed, Caritas quotes a figure of 486. The tabloid paper The Red Pepper reported that 65,000 people have been internally displaced since the attacks began almost three weeks ago.
On Friday morning they attacked trucks in Tori and Yei, South Sudan; and Friday night they were back in the forest, attacking the chief station of the Garamba park rangers. The Red Pepper claimed to know that they were heading south towards Uganda.
People in Apac remember the fact that the LRA, after the government’s Operation Iron Fist against its bases in Sudan in 2002, re-invaded parts of Northern Uganda and came as far south as Lira, Apac and Soroti! Their reach of these districts signalled their strength: Lira, Apac and Soroti are hundreds of kilometres from the Sudanese border; the most southers of these three districts, Apac is situated almost in the middle of Uganda!
If they could do that in 2002, the question remains, will they be able to again? Access to information – independently verified – seems as important as ever: In this region, where governments certainly appear to be unable to protect their own citizens, information is the most important means of protection.
The fact that part of the LRA consists of abductees makes the issue exceedingly complex. Over the past two decades, the Ugandan and South Sudanese governments failed to protect their villages and to prevent the abduction of children and young people; now these same governments want to kill the LRA insurgents, including the victims-turned-soldiers whose abduction they failed to prevent in the first place. But if they do not attack – and eradicate – the LRA, the government claims, there never will be peace in Northern Uganda.
Right now, people who happen to live at the intersection of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and north eastern DR Congo seem to be most at risk. It is a tragedy that these are three failed states. Although the prolonged existence of the LRA has always has regional aspects – funded by Sudan to destabilise Uganda – it now has become a regional destabilising force as it finds its victims at the margins of three – or four?- basket cases of African Governance.
Only the gods will know what 2009 has in store for this region…