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Attacks by Ugandan Rebels in DRC Draw Calls for Stronger UN Troop Presence

Four human rights groups are urging the UN Security Council to dispatch additional peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Orientale province to help the Congolese army contain attacks by Ugandan rebels. Human Rights Watch, Resolve Uganda, the Justice and Peace Commission of Congo’s Dungu/Doruma, and the Enough Project are also asking Britain, the United States, and countries near the DRC to pursue an arrest strategy against Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader General Joseph Kony and his followers, who are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

In Washington, the Enough Project’s Africa Advocacy Director Colin Thomas-Jensen said the attacks have escalated in the past two months and are straining the mandate of a 17-thousand troop UN peacekeeping force, known by its acronym MONUC, which has been trying to curb tensions in Congo’s neighboring North Kivu Province.

“The patterns that we’re seeing, the hit-and-run attacks on large towns that have military bases, like the town of Dungu, we think it’s part of a broader plan by the Lord’s Resistance Army to increase their ranks, to bolster their military capacity for ultimately what could be another round of conflict in region,” observed Thomas-Jensen.

Throughout the Juba peace process between Ugandan rebels and the Kampala government which took place in southern Sudan, LRA negotiators have offered and then declined to sign a final agreement to end more than 20 years of insurgency in northern Uganda. The Enough Project’s Thomas-Jensen says that this week’s most current hints that General Kony will go ahead and sign the accord might counteract the peace process and complicate the insurgency even more.

“It could actually lead to a very complicated situation, one in which Kony might actually sign a deal but then not come out of the bush. And then what do you have? You have a signed peace deal, but the rebellion remains ensconced in a national park across the border. And what does that do for any sort of military options that might be on the table? What does it do for demobilization because he signed a peace deal, but they’re still in the bush? So I think what we’re likely going to see at the end of the month is a continuation of the status quo. I don’t think we’re going to see much of a change. But if he does sign, it does alter the situation and make it somewhat more complicated,” he noted.

Thomas-Jensen says there are multiple reasons why the human rights organizations are pushing for Washington, London and Congo’s neighbors to step up the pressure to prosecute the rebels.

“First and foremost, the threat that the LRA poses to civilians, this is one of the most bitter insurgencies of all time in terms of its ability to cause terror and displace civilians at one-point-seven million Ugandans displaced by just a couple of thousand LRA fighters. Also, I think you have to put the issue of the LRA in the context of our never-ending quest for international justice. Joseph Kony is an indicted war criminal, indicted by the International Criminal Court along with four of his cohorts, two of which are now deceased. And the fact that these warrants were issued but there was no plan by the international community to execute the warrants I think speaks volumes about the gap between the rhetoric on international justice and the action,” he said.

Following Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s return to New York from last weekend’s emergency summit on the troubled Great Lakes region in Nairobi, Kenya, discussions intensified at UN headquarters as the Secretary General pressed for a ceasefire in North Kivu province, northwest of Orientale. Alan Doss, the UN chief’s special representative for Congo appealed in early October for reinforcements for MONUC, and security council consideration remains under discussion. In August, 150 current MONUC peacekeepers were dispatched to neighboring Orientale to protect civilians and help Congolese troops contain the LRA. But six DRC army deaths and three rebel fatalities in October have prompted the four human rights organizations to press for additional UN peacekeepers. Thomas-Jensen says it’s a matter for the security council urgently to sort out the priorities.

“The situation we’re seeing right now in the Congo is one that has the potential to spiral out of control pretty dramatically, and one that demands a big response, both diplomatically, but also in the immediate term militarily. I do think that there does need to be an additional deployment of troops in the Kivus. But the risk in neglecting what is a very serious and increasingly violent insurgency by the LRA in Garamba National Park, I think the risk you run in not addressing that is that we’ll have to be three, four, five, six months down the road dealing with yet another massive crisis that we’ve allowed to spill out of control,” he warned.