Print options

May 07, 2013

LRA Has Safe Havens in Sudan, Rights Group Says

by Scott Stearns

Human rights groups say the outlawed Lord's Resistance Army has found safe-haven along the still-contentious border between Sudan and South Sudan. Chinese influence may help convince the government in Khartoum to get tough with the LRA.

Facing an international arrest warrant for war crimes in East Africa, Lord's Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony is on the run. Human rights groups believe he has found refuge in Sudan.

"We have uncovered that the LRA has been setting up bases, or had set up bases, in an area that was defacto controlled by Sudan over the last couple of years," said Sasha Lezhnev, who is an analyst with the Enough Project.  

Satellite images

Commercial satellite images released by the Enough Project show what the group says is a camp used by the LRA as recently as February.

"The United States is aware and continues to evaluate reports that the LRA has operated in the disputed Kafia Kingi area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. The U.S. and the international community as a whole would take very seriously any credible evidence of support or safe haven being provided to the LRA," said Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman.

Off-camera, U.S. officials say they do not have sufficient evidence that Sudan has resumed significant support for the LRA. Lezhnev said Sudan is giving the LRA time and space to regroup.

"Providing a safe harbor is significant and it's worrying in so far that the LRA has new safe-haven areas," said Lezhnev.

Especially for such a mobile force, said Jennifer Cooke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The LRA has been very nimble in moving across borders to escape scrutiny. And with everything that is going on between the north and south within Sudan, what's happening in the southern part of Sudan itself, I think there is not a whole lot of attention focused on tracking down the LRA in Sudan," said Cooke.

Seeking help

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said he is not backing the LRA. At a time when he is looking to improve Sudan's standing, giving up the LRA could make sense.

"It would be a sign of good faith. And it is not clear what interest Sudan right now would have in harboring the LRA. They've got bigger issues," said Cooke.

Such as fully restoring oil exports, in which China played a leading roll. Lezhnev said Beijing could help with the LRA as well.

"Some creative pressure, including pressure from the United States, has helped achieve some results with Sudan. Having China weigh in to a stronger degree than they had before has also helped," said Lezhnev.

But Sarah Margon at Human Rights Watch says China has no direct interest in the LRA.

"In the case of the LRA and in the case of Joseph Kony, this is really a civilian-protection mission for the US. There's frankly not a lot else in it for the United States right now. So getting China to engage on and support American interests in the counter-LRA mission is a tough one," said Margon.

Lezhnev said LRA's safe-haven in Sudan will continue to be a "concrete danger" until there is a change in Khartoum.