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Any Attack on Us Means War – LRA

Uganda’s rebel movement threatens renewed conflict war if a threat to invade its wilderness headquarters materialises.
By Julius Ocen
Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army has reacted with fury to plans for a joint Ugandan-Congolese military attack on its main base in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Any attack on our military positions by forces of the NRM [Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement party] or any armed groups allied to the Uganda dictatorship shall be treated strictly as a declaration of war,” said LRA spokesman Godfrey Ayoo.

Ayoo was speaking to a correspondent for Uganda’s New Vision newspaper in Nairobi on September 12, four days after Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, signed an agreement in Tanzania committing them to send in a joint military force which will attempt to dislodge the LRA fighters from the Garamba National Park by mid-December.

This pact, said the LRA spokesman, was “an invitation to bring war back to Uganda”.

The Museveni-Kabila agreement followed severe border tension between the two countries. Four people - three Ugandans and a British oil worker - were killed in raids mounted from DRC, and Ugandan defence minister Crispus Kiyonga threatened a unilateral invasion of Congo to root out the LRA and other rebel groups.

The LRA rebellion in northern Uganda has lasted two decades and seen at least 100,000 people die and 1.7 million others become internal refugees. The rebels fled to the 5,000 square kilometre Garamba park in DRC in late 2004 after leaving their former bases in southern Sudan.

Following the commencement of peace talks between the Kampala government and the LRA in July last year, northern Uganda has been largely peaceful, and people have slowly begun returning to their homes from squalid refugee camps.

The Kabila-Museveni pact and the LRA’s angry response now place a huge question mark over the peace process.

Talks were adjourned in June, and a date for the resumption of negotiations, which are being held in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, keeps being set back, with no provisional resumption date yet on the table.

More bellicose talk came from Ugandan army spokesman Major Felix Kulaigye, who reacted to Ayoo’s comments by telling IWPR, “Uganda will not sit on its hands and watch if the LRA dares to launch attacks from its hideouts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We will react militarily. We will not allow war to return to the north.”

LRA leader Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti and two other senior rebel commanders are the targets of arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague. The warrants allege that they "engaged in a cycle of violence [in northern Uganda] and established a pattern of brutalisation of civilians by acts including murder, abduction, sexual enslavement, mutilation, as well as mass burnings of houses and looting of camp settlements."

The charge sheet further alleges that Kony and his men abducted children as fighters, porters and sex slaves for his movement.

One of the triggers for the decision by presidents Kabila and Museveni decision to take military action is the LRA leadership’s refusal to leave the Garamba park and bring its guerrilla fighters to assembly points in villages just across the border in Sudan.

In a ceasefire agreement reached in August last year, LRA leaders committed themselves to assembling their forces at two Sudanese villages, Ri-Kwangba and Owiny-Kibul, within three weeks. This did not happen, and further agreements to bring the revel forces to the assembly points in November and December last year were not honoured.

The latest addendum to the “Cessation of Hostilities” agreement, signed on April 14 this year, contained a modification – made at the LRA’s request – that the assembly area should be limited to one location, Ri-Kwangba. The operation was meant to be completed by the end of June, but once again, it has not happened.

“The LRA has demonstrated that it is not serious about the peace talks which have been dragging on for 15 months,” commented New Vision, a Ugandan government-owned daily newspaper.

Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the interior minister who heads the Ugandan government delegation at the peace talks, welcomed the Museveni-Kabila accord, arguing that LRA leaders had failed to meet the latest deadline to leave the Garamba park and assemble at Ri-Kwangba.

“They are still in the DRC, in violation of what we had agreed,” he said.

Army spokesman Kulaigye told IWPR, “In terms of the latest agreement, the LRA are living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo illegally, and therefore the Congo and Ugandan governments have every right to flush them out.”

Meanwhile, Vincent Otti, the LRA’s second-in-command and the movement’s most authoritative spokesman, said the agreement between Museveni and Kabila went against the entire spirit of the Juba peace negotiations.

Speaking by satellite phone to The Monitor, Uganda’s main independent daily newspaper, Otti asked, “How can President Kabila, who sent a representative to the Juba talks, promise Mr Museveni to fight us?

"We strongly condemn what Mr Museveni and Mr Kabila have agreed on. We are ready to fight anyone who attacks us. This deal is not in good faith. It is against the spirit of peace."

Otti claimed to be speaking from the Ri-Kwangba assembly point, although all his previous recent satellite phone conversations with journalists have been from inside the Garamba National Park.

Julius Ocen is an IWPR contributor in Uganda.

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