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US Imposes Sanctions on LRA Leader

Washington ramps up pressure on Lord’s Resistance Army and its supporters.
By Rosebell Kagumire
In an apparent response to calls for increased international pressure on the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, the United States has added Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony to a terrorist blacklist.

The move, which provoked a mixed response, is aimed at curtailing support for the LRA by individuals, groups or countries, as well as increasing the pressure on Kony sign a peace deal that has been two years in the making.

On August 28, Kony’s name appeared at the top of the US list of “specially designated global terrorists” – a list created in 2001 in a measure intended to cut off funding for extremists worldwide.

Adding the militia leader’s name to the list will ban US citizens from dealing with Kony, and also means that any assets the rebel leader has in US institutions will be frozen.

The list is created and maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an agency of the US Treasury Department. It affects thousands of individuals and organisations around the world that may have funds in the US or do business with American organizations.

Kony has been an object of US attention ever since 2004, when the LRA was listed as a terrorist group on the government’s Terrorist Exclusion List. The list is drawn up by the State Department to designate international terrorist groups which do not pose a direct threat to the US but are active in their home regions.

While the latest designation is largely symbolic and depends on international cooperation to be effective, it could directly affect a clandestine network of LRA supporters around the world, some of whom are said to live in the US and Britain.

This network has long been rumoured to exist, but came to the fore in April after Kony failed to sign a negotiated peace deal with the Ugandan government to end 20 years of war.

At the time, LRA spokesman David Matsanga said Kony refused to sign at the request of supporters and financiers located in Europe and elsewhere, and said he overheard conversations between them and the rebels’ negotiating team.

Subsequently, local leaders in northern Uganda, including district official Walter Ochora, reportedly gathered a list of foreign supporters of the LRA and turned it over to international authorities.

The addition of Kony to the list prompted complaints from Nairobi-based Matsanga, who said the sanctions would not work and claimed they show that the US is not sincere in its desire for a peace deal in the north.

“Kony has no property and he doesn’t intend to [acquire any] in the near future,” Matsanga told IWPR. “These sanctions show that Americans are ignorant of the progress towards securing a final peace deal.”

Matsanga said that although the sanctions were ill-timed, they would not deter the LRA leader from signing the peace deal.

“The US has observers at the Juba [peace] talks, and I don’t understand why they want divert our attention from achieving a peace with such sanctions,” he said.

“Besides being meaningless, these sanctions should have waited. The Uganda government has agreed to help remove LRA from the list of global terrorists once a peace deal is signed, so that doesn’t worry us in any way, although the timing is questionable.”

Since snubbing a peace deal on two occasions – first in April and then in May – Kony has repeatedly asked for peace talks to resume, but has broken appointments set for meetings.

The most recent call was for a September 5 meeting with chief mediator Riek Machar, who is vice-president of South Sudan, and United Nations special envoy Joachim Chissano.

Meanwhile, the chief Ugandan government negotiator, Ruhakana Rugunda, praised the sanctions, calling them “a positive step to ensure the conflict is ended peacefully”.

Rugunda, who is Ugandan interior minister, said the sanctions would put pressure on the rebel leader to sign the deal.

“We finished the talks and all we are waiting for is Kony’s signature and disarmament,” he said.

He said the US sanctions showed that “the only way Kony can acquit himself from terrorism is [to] submit himself to Uganda’s [planned] special war crimes court”.

While the two sides in the talks have agreed that a special court should be established, its future remains in doubt – not least because Uganda does not have laws against war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Neither has the proposed court been sanctioned by the International Criminal Court, ICC, where the rebel leader and his top commanders are wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Kony alone faces 33 counts.

The rebel leader is currently with his army in the Garamba National Park in the northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, where he communicates with the outside world by satellite phone.

Rugunda said he did not think the sanctions would prevent his government from asking the UN Security Council to drop the ICC warrants if and when Kony signs a peace deal.

“The agreement was clear,” Rugunda said. “We as a government will bring Kony to a Ugandan court and the ICC warrants won’t apply any more, and such sanctions will only help us in convincing Kony to surrender himself and end the conflict peacefully.”

As recently as this spring, however, the ICC asked for an end to the support, including food and water, that has been provided to Kony’s army while the peace process is ongoing. It wanted to force Kony to sign a peace deal so and then be brought to trial in The Hague, not Uganda.

The US sanctions come as the authorities in DRC are preparing to take military action against the LRA.

As earlier reported by IWPR, the Congolese military has begun moving forces to Dungu, a remote town close to the Garamba park. Dungu is also home to a UN base, and has an air strip capable of handling large cargo planes and troop carriers.

In the past few months, army chiefs from Uganda, DRC, and Sudan have met and reportedly discussed military plans to move against Kony if he continues to balk at signing a peace deal.

Matsanga, meanwhile, said that Kony would sign the agreement, but would not disarm immediately.

Kony has maintained that he wants a guarantee that he will be tried in a Ugandan court, rather than at the ICC.

“Kony and his fighters will not surrender their arms after the final agreement is signed – probably September 5 – because they want assurance on certain parts of the agreement,” said Matsanga.

Rosebell Kagumire is an IWPR-trained contributor in Uganda.

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