Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army rebels have crossed into Central
African Republic after fleeing a multi-national offensive against their
hideouts in northern Congo Kinshasa. An Uganda analyst for the
Washington-based Enough Project predicts the group, known as the LRA,
will continue killing and spreading terror unless the organization's
top leaders are captured.
According to reports from the Central African Republic capital Bangui, LRA fighters ambushed an army patrol last Friday close to the country's border with Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa.
The army says one of its officers was killed and another soldier was wounded in the attack. Central African Republic soldiers fired back, killing an unknown number of rebels and chasing the rest back into Sudan.
The government dispatched extra troops to the remote region last month to protect against an LRA incursion that had been widely expected since mid-December when Congolese, South Sudanese and Ugandan forces launched an offensive on the LRA.
The group's leader, Joseph Kony, his commanders and several-hundred foot soldiers escaped from their bases in northeast Congo, slaughtering hundreds of people in nearby villages. They are now believed to be scattered across 40,000 square kilometers and looking for the next safe haven.
An Uganda analyst for the Washington-based Enough Project, Julia Spiegel, says Kony, who was indicted with four others by the International Criminal Court in 2005, formed the Lord's Resistance Army primarily as a rebellion against the perceived marginalization of the northern Acholi people in Uganda.
But Spiegel says the LRA has long been a movement with no defined ideals or goals other than to spread terror. Although the December military assault has been sharply criticized for unleashing an LRA bloodletting spree, Spiegel says she believes the regional armies made the right decision to go after the LRA leadership.
"There was a need to do something aimed at apprehending those key LRA leaders indicted by the International Criminal Courts. They are the mastermind behind their operation. They are the ones who use fear and terror to keep all of these other fighters behind them. Now, what we ended up seeing was a poorly planned and poorly executed operation," she said.
Spiegel says better intelligence gathering, coordination and rapid response capability are needed to capture Kony and his lieutenants. She says only their capture will enable the foot soldiers to lay down their weapons.
"You have got young men and women, who were abducted when they were nine, 10, 11 years old," she said. "They were forced to do terrible things to their families and communities and all they have known ever since is living in the bush for basic survival and killing. So, as far as getting out of there, it is really daunting because they are terrified. If you cut the head off the snake, it will be much easier to bring back all the other lower rank-and-file fighters and reintegrate them into society. Not that that is not a very difficult process. But we are talking about a couple of hundred. It is nothing like on the scale of Liberia and elsewhere, where you had hundreds of thousands."
It is not known how many children have been abducted by the LRA since 1987. Estimates range from 20,000 to as high as 60,000.