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US Activists Cautiously Optimistic About Anti-LRA Mission

  • Nico Colombant

U.S. activists who have worked for years advocating against Central Africa's roaming Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are cautiously optimistic new U.S. military assistance to dismantle the deadly militia will be effective. But they also see many challenges for the recently announced mission.

The Lord's Resistance Army, a small band of roving rebels, made up mostly of abducted child soldiers, continues to kill, maim and cause the displacement of civilians, in the border areas between the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Uganda.

The group was started as an anti-government rebellion in Uganda in the 1980s by Joseph Kony, who claims to have spiritual powers. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony to face charges of crimes against humanity, but he has eluded capture.

Now, the U.S. government has decided to send about 100 military advisers to help Uganda and other African countries end the LRA's atrocities.

One of those applauding the move but still pushing for stronger U.S. action is the Enough Project executive director, John Bradshaw.

"100 military advisors is a great and very important first step, but we are not satisfied there. We are advocates. We really want to address this issue so we want to keep pushing until we feel that this administration is doing all that they can," said Bradshaw.

A Uganda-led effort to squash the LRA with U.S. funding and planning in 2008 led to a surge of LRA attacks.

Bradshaw says he hopes the outcome this time will be Kony's capture and trial, even though it is difficult to know where exactly the elusive LRA leader is.

"There are a lot of various reports. He was believed to be in the [Democratic Republic of] Congo for a significant amount of time, but that is why we need better intelligence and we need the U.S. advisors to get out there and provide that," added Bradshaw.

Michael Poffenberger has spent most of his professional life dedicated to fighting the LRA through advocacy with the Washington-based group Resolve.

He shares worries of how the LRA used abducted children and women as human shields in previous defense against government attacks.

"Our hope is that with the extra assistance being provided by the United States you can actually find innovative ways to help these kids be protected in these operations and encourage them to actually defect and escape, and put more mechanisms in place to make that happen," added Poffenberger.

Activists also want to see more regional engagement and coordination on the issue, human rights training for soldiers who will be involved in field operations, better trained special forces from other African countries take part, and European logistical support.

They also say the solution cannot just be military, but must include substantial disarmament programs and economic help for LRA affected areas.

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