- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

GULU, Uganda - When the Sudan peace agreement was signed Jan. 9, ending Africa’s longest-running conflict, it pro-vided pressure and opportunity for neighboring Uganda to conclude its war with Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

In ending its war with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Khartoum helped its other former enemy, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, by denying the LRA rebels a sanctuary in southern Sudan from which LRA rebels could raid northern Uganda.

On the Saturday before the Sudan treaty signing, SPLA leader John Garang, whose forces control southern Sudan, told reporters the LRA is “unwelcome in our territory,” adding that the Ugandan rebels would be “treated as enemies of united Sudan.”

“They have no business being on our territory,” he said.

A peace agreement to end nearly two decades of war between Uganda and the LRA was to have been signed Dec. 31 at Kitgum, northern Uganda, but negotiations broke down at the 11th hour.

In a country hailed by economists as a development success story, northern Uganda’s “humanitarian emergency,” as the United Nations calls it, is spinning out of control. After Sudan, it is Africa’s longest-running war.

The war in northern Uganda began shortly after Mr. Museveni’s National Resistance Army, dominated by southerners, who had been favored during British colonial rule (1894-1962), seized power in a 1986 military coup.

That year, a group of Acholis in the north revolted against the newcomers and were joined by military groups that had supported the earlier regimes of Idi Amin (1971-1979) and Milton Obote (1980-1985), forming the Uganda People’s Democratic Army.

The latter split in 1988 when some of its officers made peace with the government, but a remnant led by Alice Lakwena, an Acholi woman professing magical Christian powers, continued fighting. Her Holy Spirit Movement was defeated the same year, and she fled to neighboring Kenya, leaving her forces to Mr. Kony — variously described as Miss Lakwena’s nephew or cousin — who renamed it the LRA.

Mr. Kony, a former catechist and messianic prophet to his followers, sees himself as liberator of the Acholi people. In fact, however, they have become the battleground.

More than 20,000 children have been abducted, used as child soldiers and child wives by Mr. Kony’s men, or brutally killed to frighten the other kidnapped children into obedience.

More than 1.5 million of the mostly Acholi inhabitants of northern Uganda have been forced from their land by the government or the LRA into relocation camps, where they are targeted for abduction by the LRA.

The war in Sudan between the Arabic-speaking Muslims in Khartoum and tribal blacks in the south, who are mostly Christians or animists, influenced the conflict in Uganda because the two governments backed each other’s rebels.

Negotiations between Khartoum and the SPLA led to rapprochement with Kampala by 2002, when government army (UPDF) forces were permitted to cross the border and attack the LRA in southern Sudan.

Toward the end of 2004, Mr. Kony showed readiness to end the fighting in Uganda. Brig. Sam Kolo, a rebel officer close to Mr. Kony, conceded the LRA was tired.

Mr. Museveni ordered a government cease-fire and former government minister Betty Bigombe was sent to the first face-to-face meeting with the rebels in a decade.

By Dec. 29, the government in Kampala was ready to deal. Before an international delegation, the government team met with Mr. Kony’s senior commanders. A draft agreement offered amnesty to LRA combatants in return for disbandment.

An amnesty would protect Mr. Kony from the international war crimes tribunal he is said to fear most, and Mr. Museveni has just one more year before multiparty elections in 2006.

But the LRA sought more time, just as the government cease-fire ran out on New Year’s Eve, and Mr. Museveni refused. In fact, the rebels are battered and weakened after nearly 20 years in the bush, and the government has the upper hand.

According to the Defense Ministry in Kampala, in the two years since January 2003, the UPDF rescued 7,387 children kidnapped by the LRA and killed 986 rebels. The latter number around 5,000 — 80 percent of them believed to be kidnapped children — while Uganda’s army has 50,000 troops.

An air-supported army attack on the rebels and the capture of Mr. Kony’s family and LRA bodyguard last week demonstrates the government’s new advantage and of the net that appears to be closing around the rebel chief.

In the past few days, Khartoum renewed its accord with Kampala, allowing the UPDF to engage the LRA in southern Sudan, soon to come under SPLA control, and Sudan has warned the LRA to expect no further help.

Since the breakdown, both sides have pulled their forces back and Mr. Museveni’s government is being urged by other governments and international agencies to resume talks. Kampala has quietly extended two cease-fire deadlines, and Mrs. Bigombe, the sole negotiator who can speak directly with Mr. Kony by phone, says she is upbeat.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide