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February 05, 2013

Report: LRA Rebel Defections on the Rise

by Joe DeCapua

A new report says the Lord’s Resistance Army killed fewer people, launched fewer attacks and had a higher number of defections in 2012 than in recent years.  The LRA Crisis Tracker project monitors the rebels’ activities in central Africa.


The project is a joint effort by the groups Invisible Children and The Resolve.

“Most of the information that we get on LRA activity comes from a network of high-frequency radios that operate in remote towns in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, that are operated by local partners, who basically two times a day call in with any information that they have about LRA activity,” said Paul Ronan, director of policy for The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative.

The report says in the last nine months, two senior LRA commanders were captured or killed and about 20 fighters left the group.

“What we saw was an increase in the number of Ugandan members of the Lord’s Resistance Army who were defecting or escaping from the rebel group. And this is particularly important because Ugandans make up the core of the LRA. And because the LRA no longer operates in Uganda, every time a Ugandan combatant leaves the LRA they’re essentially irreplaceable,” he said.

Ronan said that 15 of the 20 LRA fighters who defected say they saw or heard messages urging them to surrender. Leaflets are dropped over areas where there is suspected LRA activity and messages are broadcast over loudspeakers attached to helicopters. He said the campaign is one of the innovative methods being used by Ugandan troops, U.S. advisors and NGOs.

In the first half of 2012, about 190 LRA attacks were reported in the region. That number fell to 84 in the second half. However, Ronan said that’s not necessarily encouraging news.

“What we’ve seen actually in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – each of the past three years – is that the number of LRA attacks increase significantly in the first half of the year. So, even though we’ve seen a downward trend in the last half of 2012, I think that if we look at these cyclical trends we should be very much concerned about the safety of civilians in the region for the next four or five months,” he said.

The LRA Crisis Tracker report also uncovered another trend.

“The LRA is killing significantly fewer people than it has in the past. In 2010, it killed 706 civilians over the course of the year and that number drops to 154 in 2011 and then just 51 in 2012,” said Ronan.

It’s not that the Lord’s Resistance Army has a new respect for human life. Ronan says when the rebels kill many civilians the international community focuses its attention on them.

The report estimates there are about 150 to 250 LRA fighters distributed among smaller groups in the region. There are up to 400 abductees, mostly women and children, traveling with them. The groups are operating in the northeastern DRC, southeastern Central African Republic and a disputed border region between Sudan and South Sudan near the CAR.

Besides, killings, abductions, rapes and looting, the LRA is now linked to the illegal ivory trade in Garamba National Park in the DRC.

The LRA began some 30 years ago in northern Uganda. Its leader Joseph Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.