Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

LRA Under Pressure to Back Peace Plan

Kinshasa and Kampala plan to hit rebels if they fail to agree peace deal.
Defence officials from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, will meet in the coming weeks to put the final touches to a planned military operation against the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, now holed up in Congo’s remote Garamba park.

The military operation is aimed at flushing the rebel army out of the Congo, should the LRA’s peace negotiators or the rebel leader Joseph Kony fail to reach a peace agreement by the end of January.

Although the military operation greatly increases pressure on the LRA to reach a peace settlement quickly when talks resume in the South Sudan capital of Juba, it also risks sabotaging the fragile negotiations which are now entering their final stages.

Kony has been notoriously fickle in prior efforts to reach a peace deal, and this was recently emphasised with the reported execution of the LRA’s deputy commander Vincent Otti, who spearheaded the peace talks for the LRA.

Otti was accused by Kony of disloyalty and reportedly executed in early October. Although Otti’s death has not been confirmed, he has not been heard from since then.

Concern for the pending military operation was expressed this week by LRA chief negotiator Martin Ojul, who said the plan was a violation of the cessation of hostilities agreed by the LRA and Uganda.

In addition, UN special envoy to the peace talks Juaquim Chissano of Mozambique has urged the Congo and Uganda to give the talks more time.

Uganda’s defence minister Crispus Kiyonga last week confirmed that the DRC had provided the Ugandan government with a military plan to eliminate the rebels.

“The Congolese authorities [have given] us a security plan which they will execute if Kony does not turn up and conclude the talks in Juba,” said Kiyoga. “The DRC minister and I will meet to look into this plan and agree.”

The DRC government has given the LRA until January 31, 2008, to vacate its jungle enclave or face the prospect of war.

This ultimatum follows the September 8 meeting in Ngurdoto, Tanzania, when Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his DRC counterpart Joseph Kabila signed an agreement for a joint military operation against Kony.

The broadly-worded agreement called for the “apprehension, disarmament and demobilization of.. negative forces including the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels” within 90 days.

It is unclear, however, how capable the Congolese military would be in such an operation since it has failed to control former Congolese army commander Laurent Nkunda, who leads a strong militia of ethnic Tutsis and controls a vast swath of the eastern regions.

The agreement seemingly opens the door for yet another invasion of the Congo by the Ugandan army similar to previous moves between 1998 and 2003.

While others in the region have recognised Kony and the LRA as a threat, some are beginning to do more than sympathise with Museveni.

Some months ago, the president of the Central African Republic, CAR, General Francois Bozize visited Uganda on a trip that many interpreted as a move by Museveni to rally support against Kony.

Although officials said Bozize was simply making a routine visit, it renewed a high level relationship between the two nations that had been dormant for nearly 30 years.

The two countries, which don’t share a common border or belong to a common trade organisation, last had official ties in the 1970s when each was ruled by ruthless despots: Uganda’s Idi Amin and the CAR’s Jean Bedel Bokassa.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source within the Uganda government said, “The trip was purely an attempt for Museveni to seek help from Bozize in case Kony relocated to his country. Essentially, he was asking Bozize to root out Kony, should he enter the country.”

Although details of any military cooperation are not available, recent comments from LRA defectors confirmed that Kony had planned to relocate to CAR.

While some argue that the Congo-Uganda military plan shows that regional powers have finally acknowledged the threat that Kony’s army presents, others say renewed fighting will not solve the problem.

Dr Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Mackerere University, said, “Killing Kony will only turn him into a hero in Acholi.” Kony is part of the enthic Acholi who dominate northern Uganda.

Eliminating Kony will not remove the threat of the LRA, he said, because it could breed more ruthless leaders from within its rank.

The move to get rid of Kony may be driven by Museveni’s strong military background, he said.

“It’s very difficult for someone who was a rebel to accept another rebel to exist without defeating him militarily," Mukwaya said of Museveni, who rose to power in 1986 after his National Resistance Army fought a five-year civil war.

“Kony has a constituency,” said Mukwaya. “It may be local, region, or global. Therefore he can be succeeded.”

Eliminating Kony militarily would also deprive the International Criminal Court of what could well be its most visible trial as well as Kony’s testimony, which some speculate could also implicate the Ugandan army for war crimes.

“It’s better for Kony to go to The Hague," said Mukwaya, if the truth of the 20-year war is to be fully revealed.

Mukwaya also suggested that the Juba peace talks were not supported by Uganda out of a desire for peace, but to quiet international criticism of Museveni’s failure to defeat the rebels.

Even as doubts about Uganda’s desire for a peaceful settlement have surfaced, similar questions have been voiced about Kony’s intentions following the reported killing of Otti.

Military expert and former member of parliament, Aggrey Awori, contends that Otti’s apparent execution shows that Kony will never embrace peace.

Now, the only option left for Kony, he said, is to embrace peace or face military defeat. “Kony has reached a point of no return militarily," he said. “His camp is now divided and he is surrounded.

"I will not use the word kill, but militarily eradicating Kony and his remnants is the way forward."

Emma Mutaizibwa is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.

More IWPR's Global Voices