Reports say this week’s regional offensive against Ugandan rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has inflicted considerable damage on the rebels’ military bases. Ugandan troops have entered the area in Congo’s Orientale province to search for rebel commander Joseph Kony, who has reportedly fled from his DRC headquarters. The UN envoy for northern Uganda says the Security Council is backing the attack, which began on Sunday when Ugandan war planes, backed by troops from the DRC and southern Sudan, raided LRA installations harboring Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Executive director Michael Poffenberger of the group Resolve Uganda says that international powers should ensure that the operation protects civilians and LRA captives from collateral violence.
“We wish that there could have been an operation developed with more support from the international community that could target just the LRA leaders. The situation is something akin to a hostage situation where the LRA leadership has resorted to abducting kids, who serve as the majority of the LRA fighters. And so, it’s really tragic when we see any kind of military operation like this launched against a group where we know that kids are going to comprise a large majority of those who are killed,” he said.
Kony moved LRA operations from southern Sudan to the eastern DRC three years ago. Since October, after frustrated negotiators had all but given up on empty pledges that he would attend scheduled peace treaty signings in southern Sudan and at the DRC border, stepped-up LRA attacks displaced 100-thousand civilians from their homes in Congolese areas – mainly in northeastern Orientale province. Resolve Uganda’s Michael Poffenberger says local populations in the region are developing sophisticated tactics for alerting communities to avoid being victimized by attacks and forced abductions.
“For many years, the LRA were more active in northern Uganda, and in response, the local communities came up with some really creative ways to try to entice LRA fighters to try to escape and defect from the LRA ranks. But one thing is to sensitize these communities in Congo about the fact that most of these fighters are abducted, so that if they have interactions with the fighters, they can try to get them to escape and invite them back into their communities. Another thing is to set up radio stations which broadcast messages of peace and help inform LRA fighters where they should go if they should try to escape from the LRA command,” he said.
The governments of Uganda, southern Sudan, and the DRC issued a statement claiming Joseph Kony’s main rebel base was destroyed. Poffenberger says he has credible information that the rebel leader was not apprehended or killed in the attack, is on the run, and may be headed further away rather than closer to earlier theaters of operations.
“Some people are concerned that the
LRA, in response to these attacks, will try to return to northern Uganda and
wreak havoc there once again. But so
far, it seems as though the LRA actually is escaping in the opposite direction
and heading further northwest from the Congo into Central African
Republic. So I don’t think it’s really
likely that the LRA attacks will result in upsetting the fragile situation in
northern Uganda itself. But certainly,
people there are on guard because that has happened before,” he warned.