Saturday, January 10, 2009

Congo rebel camp raided

Joint raid sets camp of Ugandan rebel group ablaze

Uganda, Congo, and south Sudan attacked the Lord's Resistance Army camp in northern Congo on Sunday.

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security update
December 15, 2008

Three African nations announced Monday they had launched military operations against the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the remote northeast forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo the previous day.

Uganda, Congo, and south Sudan said they had attacked an LRA camp and set it ablaze.

The LRA has waged a 20-year rebellion against the Ugandan government and is notorious for kidnapping children and conscripting them. Its leaders are now hiding out in the jungles of the neighboring Congo.

The Ugandan government and the LRA have been in on-and-off peace talks for more than two years, but LRA head Joseph Kony has three times this year failed to show up to sign a deal, frustrating efforts to bring peace.

The BBC reported that the three countries released a joint statement on the raid.

A statement announcing the operation was released in the Ugandan capital Kampala by the intelligence chiefs of all three armed forces.

The statement said the attack targeted the "terrorists" at their bases in the forested area of Garamba, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The three armed forces successfully attacked the main body and destroyed the main camp of Kony, code-named camp Swahili, setting it on fire," the statement said.

Agence France-Presse reported that the three governments have lost patience with Mr. Kony. It reported that both the LRA and the Ugandan government say they are still open to negotiations, despite the obvious breakdown of the peace process.

"We are attacking the camps. So for now the peace process is off," Ugandan army spokesman Major Paddy Ankunda told AFP.

But he added: "We still think that if there is an opportunity to re-open negotiations we will do it."

The attack, in which the forces raided and set an LRA rebels' camp on fire in the Garamba region, ended a two-year ceasefire between the Ugandan army and the rebels.

LRA spokesman David Nyekorach-Matsanga condemned Sunday's attacks but said they were still committed to peace.

Bloomberg reported that the Ugandan Air Force began bombing LRA positions Sunday. Quoting a Ugandan Army official, it said there weren't yet any details on casualties. It said the stumbling block to a peace deal was International Criminal Court charges against Kony.

Rebel leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the peace agreement, demanding that the International Criminal Court first withdraw war crimes charges against him.

The Uganda government referred Kony and his commanders to the court, which indicted them in 2005, after they had fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda started negotiations with the rebel movement in July 2006 with the mediation of the South Sudan government in an attempt to end a war which has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than 1.5 million people.

The Daily Monitor, a Ugandan daily, reported that peace talks had already collapsed in November, when Joseph Kony "failed to turn up for the third time this year to sign a deal earlier agreed upon by both sides."

In a separate interview, Maj. Ankunda told Daily Monitor last night that the attack was prompted by the rebel leader's failure to sign the deal. "He continues to kill and abduct, so we decided to move and rescue the women and children," Maj. Ankunda said. "This operation is also intended to implement the warrant of arrests issued by the International Criminal Court against Kony and his top commanders."

The Monitor said the attack was believed to have included infantry and special forces, in addition to the airstrikes.

In a report last week, the International Crisis Group said the peace process was "failing." It warned that the LRA could be used as a pawn in the coming years by the Sudanese government in Khartoum. That Arab government has long been accused of sponsoring the LRA in its fight against the Ugandan government, as a tit-for-tat measure against Uganda's alleged past sponsorship of southern Sudanese Christian rebels who fought Khartoum.

[The LRA] is available again as a proxy if Khartoum wants to disrupt the 2009 national elections, Southern Sudan's 2011 referendum, or restart war on the Sudan People's Liberation Army's (SPLA) southern flank.

The Associated Press wrote that the LRA's insurgency has destabilized several countries in the region.

The LRA has been waging one of Africa's longest and most brutal rebellions for the past 20 years, drawing in northern Uganda, eastern Congo and southern Sudan. The rebels were notorious for raping children and using them as soldiers.

According to the website, the LRA has "committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children."

The LRA rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. They are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines. More than one-half-million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and are living in temporary camps, protected by the army.

Time magazine has called the LRA "one of the world's most terrifying rebel groups."

See video documentary from Journeyman Pictures on the LRA.

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