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Update on Kony and the LRA (Feb. – Oct., 2009)

UPDF Commandos on the hunt for LRA rebels

UPDF Commandos on the hunt for LRA rebels

As of our last report on this website (February 2009) Kony and about 250 rebels, reportedly the last of the hardcore, found themselves cornered in a swamp in the Garamba jungle in northeastern DRC. Their only hope, if we were to believe the reports, was surrender. At that time the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force released this statement…

“Soon Kony will have no fighters. He will die of hunger, be captured or get killed.” – UPDF Operation Commander, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho. 24th February 2009.

But that just didn’t happen. The Ugandan Peoples Defense Force, Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (the Congolese Army) and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Forces, three whole armies, failed to neutralize Kony despite overwhelming firepower and tactical knowledge.

With the failure of the three armies to bring in their man the UN, long criticized for under-policing DRC, decided to step up. By March, Ugandan and Sudanese soldiers were pulled back out of DRC and supposedly replaced with a new United Nations military company. The UN Security Council had authorized the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops, an attack helicopter, two transport helicopters, 1,500 Egyptian police, Special Forces and soldiers, all to work in conjunction with the DRC military to stabilize the area and smoke out Kony (as of this writing I can neither confirm nor deny the successful deployment of these forces).

On top of that, the locals had their own ideas. Western Equatoria’s Arrow Boys, a Sudanese self-defense group that use traditional weapons (bows, arrows, spears and clubs) treated with poisonous powder, said they were ready to fight the Ugandan Kony to the death and were urging Kony to surrender before they begin their march. Since then they have killed several LRA soldiers.

DRC Arrow boy displays weapons (photo Tim Makulka -UN)

DRC Arrow boy displays weapons (photo Tim Makulka -UN)

But neither the UN nor regional forces have helped in the long haul. As of October the UN reported that 400,000 people in this remote region of northern DRC have fled their homes due to renewed rebel attacks. There have been hundreds of kidnappings as Kony has begun to replenish his once dwindling forces with child soldiers and “wives”. The full, horrible terroristic mechanism that is the LRA is now completely back in business. They are participating in serial murder/machete disfigurations, forcing children to kill their parents and burning people alive inside their homes. Reportedly, roads in northern DRC are now so insecure that only aircraft can bring in supplies and staff. Towns such as Gangala and Banda are absorbing displaced people by the tens of thousands as surrounding fields and villages are being abandoned. And the LRA combatants aren’t just in DRC, there’s another force of more than one thousand in the Central African Republic, led by a  deputy of Kony’s.

And yet the DRC government says that everything I’ve told you is just not true… they’re currently denying the presence of the LRA, saying the violence is only happening in neighbouring Central African Republic. DRC’s Information Minister Lambert Mende said that a Medecins Sans Frontiers report that the BBC is riffing off of simply got it wrong. Except of course that Medecins Sans Frontiers isn’t the only org. reporting these findings. Reuters reports that Mende claims…

“It is not true to say that [LRA operating in DRC] because it is thanks to this regional effort that we have succeeded in sending them out of our country. That is why they escaped, and they are trying to bring chaos in the Central African Republic…”

He goes on to say that the rebels are retreating.

“I think they are finishing. You know, they are running, trying to hit some villages and then run, and we are after them. When they go to the Central African Republic, we are (chasing after) them, and now Central African Republic is pushing them. And I think we shall make them disappear. It is a matter of weeks, I think,”

This, of course, is all rhetoric we’ve heard before (see the above quote from Feb. of this year). Governments are constantly talking about how they’ve got Kony on the ropes. And it’s not in Congo’s best interest to be any more destabilized than it already is, that’s the kind of thing that frightens away multinational mining operations.

And yet, Kony himself is actually on the move northwards. Whether this is a retreat or a more aggressive tactical move, there’s no way of knowing. Ugandan special forces are reporting that they’re using helicopters to attack Kony’s personal group from Yambio in southern Sudan. BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut asks this question…

What is Joseph Kony’s strategy? If reports are confirmed that Kony’s forces are heading towards Darfur, it would allow the LRA to link up with the Janjaweed – the fighters backed by Sudan’s government. In the past Khartoum provided weapons and supplies to the LRA. If Kony reached Darfur this could be done much more easily. The southern Sudanese government has repeatedly accused the authorities in Khartoum of arming the LRA – accusations the north has strenuously denied. But observers – some of whom were sceptical of these claims in the past – are now coming round to the view that the Sudanese government is indeed in league with the LRA – as a means of destabilising the emerging government in southern Sudan. It is a complex situation and little about it is absolutely clear, but if these reports of LRA progress towards Darfur are true, then it is a very dangerous development indeed.

Something else that’s interesting, the Lord’s Resistance Army is no longer a Ugandan, Acholi-speaking rebel group. They have gone multi-national. Eye-witnesses are reporting that Arabic and other languages can now be heard in their ranks as Kony and underlings forcibly draft people from Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and southern Sudan. And that brings up an interesting new question. What exactly is Kony’s objective now? His struggle against the “tyrant” Museveni and the liberation of his people was invalidated last year. He is now a leader of a pan-African terrorist organization with no ideological direction. There’s no “legitimate” political reason for the actions of his organization any longer. He is a thug on the run. A man hunted. Out of spite and fear he continues to operate in the only way he knows how. A pattern abuser. A tiny Hitler. He will spend the rest of his life, however long that is, gnashing and fighting and gnawing and dragging every community he and his acolytes stroll through into his own personal hell.

And as for Acholiland? Well, the aura of suffering that Kony and his LRA emit, while not over, has been exported, and while we should cry for the DRC, CAR and Sudan, all of whom have inherited yet another madman, the people that our comic book is about, the Acholi, are busy rebuilding, re-imagining their world. There’s much to learn as banks and hotels and tourists flood into their post-war patch. What the new Acholi will look like, what of their culture will survive, no one can tell. But if they can hold on to the bucking bastard of modernity, then maybe… someday soon… there will be a whole generation living free and apart from the horrors of war.

– Joshua Dysart

Displaced people in Ingbokolo gather to receive assistance from an MSN doctor.

Displaced people in Ingbokolo gather to receive assistance from an MSN doctor.

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