A rebel Lord's Resistance Army boy soldier stands at the Sudan/DRC border (File)
A rebel Lord's Resistance Army boy soldier stands at the Sudan/DRC border (File)

Fears are mounting that the brutal Lord's Resistance Army could destabilize South Sudan as it prepares for its critical referendum on secession.

With less than three months until southern Sudan takes part in a referendum on secession from the north, many international observers fear that instability surrounding the vote will re-ignite the civil war between the north and south.

In addition, the region is also facing the external threat posed by the terrorist Lord's Resistance Army.  The infamous rebel force from Uganda has historic ties to the northern government and according to a Field Researcher for the Enough Project, Ledio Cakaj, LRA interference with the vote is a very real possibility.

"The potential that the LRA might attack South Sudan, especially to destabilize the south in light of the referendum coming, is high," said Cakaj.  "There is a high possibility they will do that, especially in return for Khartoum's help."

From 1994 until at least 2001, the Lord's Resistance Army received financial support from the Sudanese government in exchange for LRA involvement in the Sudanese civil war, which ended in 2005.  Cakaj believes that support may have lasted until 2005, and in recent years there have been reports the group is trying to re-establish that connection.

According to Cakaj, interviews with former LRA fighters indicate the group succeeded in making contact last year, though no promise of support was given.

During the past year, the Lord's Resistance Army have stepped up operations in the Central Africa Republic, near the border with southern Sudan.  Last week, the group took several hostages from the northern town of Birao.  Human Rights Watch estimates around 700 people have been abducted in the country since February 2009.

The Lord's Resistance Army has also been carrying out attacks in southern Darfur, near the north-south border of Sudan.  Last week, the International Crisis Group said notorious LRA leader Joseph Kony was likely in the region.

In an effort to face the constant threat of Kony's forces, the governments of Congo, South Sudan, Chad and Uganda say they are forming a joint unit to hunt the rebel group.  But Ledio Cakaj says such agreements must be backed by concrete action.

"Unless there is practical action taken on the ground, the agreement does not amount to much," Cakaj said.  "There already are agreements between Congo, Uganda and Sudan to fight the LRA, and yet, especially the armies of Congo and Southern Sudan, have failed to face the threat of the LRA."

Cakaj told VOA any plan to eliminate the Lord's Resistance Army needs the support of Khartoum.

Cakaj also urged the international community to begin rebuilding northern Uganda.  The Lord's Resistance Army was started, in many ways, as a response to the Ugandan government's neglect of the north, and Cakaj believes many soldiers can be convinced to disarm if that neglect is addressed.  

The Lord's Resistance Army is an elusive movement that has been terrorizing parts of east and central Africa since 1987.  The group is best known for frequently killing and kidnapping civilians in the region, employing child soldiers and raping thousands during the course of its ill-defined campaigns.