US pushing for new law against LRA

Monday March 1 2010

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (in white). The army says his group is weakened, with 200 to 250 fighters scattered around Congo and Central Africa. Photo/REUTERS

The leader of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels Joseph Kony (in white). The army says his group is weakened, with 200 to 250 fighters scattered around Congo and Central Africa. Photo/REUTERS 

By HALIMA ABDALLAH

American legislators are pushing for a law that will see another phase of military action to apprehend Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

The new move seems to go against media campaigns by the Ugandan army advising remnants of the rebel group to surrender.

“Military action should have come way back in 2003 (at the peak of LRA brutality). Many lives would have been saved in Sudan, DR Congo and Uganda,” said Uganda army spokesman Lt Col Felix Kulaigye in an interview with The EastAfrican.

“For now, our main emphasis is not combat operations. It is media operations to encourage those who want to come out to do so,” Lt. Col Kulaigye said in a separate interview.

The UPDF is using radio messages through Okapi in DRC, the UN radio, a radio in Sudan and Mega FM in Gulu to appeal to rebels to come out and take advantage of a general amnesty.

But the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Bill 2009, requires the US government to develop a new multifaceted strategy to end the LRA’s continuing terror across Central Africa, and lasting peace in northern Uganda.

Already, the proposed legislation is enjoying growing support from non governmental organisation and civil society groups globally.

In the Senate, the level at which the Bill is currently, it has 50 per cent of the support, according to the Congressional Research Service.

This makes it the first Bill specifically on sub Saharan Africa to have this many co-sponsors since 1973.

The US embassy in Kampala declined to comment when asked why the Bill is coming now and not earlier.

“There is growing support for UPDF, but generally we do not comment until a Bill is passed because, along the way, there could be changes,” said US embassy public affairs officer Joann Lockard.

It will not be the first time the US government is providing support to the Uganda army in fighting LRA.

The US has been backing UPDF with logistics and training to fight the rebel group.

Other support areas include human rights, and the UPDF mission in Somalia.

In December 2008, the US government supported Operation Lightening Thunder.

DR Congo, Sudan and Uganda jointly took part in the operation, but failed to winkle LRA rebels then in Garamba Forest, in eastern Congo.

In 2005, the LRA relocated its bases to Garamba Forest after losing support from the Sudan government following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

Several commanders of the LRA surrendered to the Uganda army following peace talks that started in 2006.

After two years of protracted talks, LRA leader Joseph Kony declined to sign the final peace pact reached in May 2008.

Instead, he launched fresh attacks on civilians in eastern Congo, Southern Sudan and now in Central African Republic (CAR).

The army says the LRA is now weakened, with an estimated 200 to 250 fighters scattered around DRC and CAR.

Squads commanded from Nzara in Sudan are pursuing them inside CAR to block them from crossing into Chad or Bahr el Ghazal.

“The LRA no longer fights; it simply keeps running and attacking civilians, particularly to loot food and drugs,” said Lt. Col Felix Kulaigye

When passed in its current form, the law will also empower President Barrack Obama’s administration to use substantial funds to help northern Uganda’s recovery programmes by channelling funds to existing Peace and Recovery Development Programmes.

However, bilateral assistance — whose figures are not indicated in the Bill — will be terminated should the government of Uganda fail to be accountable and transparent in using the money.

An additional $10m will go to humanitarian assistance this year to people directly affected by LRA brutality outside Uganda.

These include victims in Sudan, Eastern Congo and CAR.

The US government will also disburse $30m over the next three years, starting 2010, for transitional justice and reconciliation.

This will encourage and help the Ugandan government address the conditions that enabled the LRA to emerge.

It will involve setting up a body that will look into the history of conflict and human rights violations by both sides, reparations of victims and building of the High Court’s capacity to handle the criminal elements.

Although viewed as late, the Ugandan politicians welcome the bill, especially in regard to humanitarian help.

“We can say everything is too late but that does not make it useless. It means we have a double lock. The Bill is a guarantee that the world will not watch if LRA decides to come back,” said Gulu District Chairman Mr. Norbert Mao.