With the backing of the United Nations and the African Union (AU), four African countries affected by the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are launching a joint military task force to pursue the rebel fighters, including the group’s leader, Joseph Kony, UN and AU officials said today.
“The idea is to put in place a strategy, which has been discussed here today… then tomorrow we are going to Juba in the Republic of South Sudan to launch the joint operations tasks force composed [of] Ugandan forces, Central African Republic forces, South Sudan and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo],” the AU Special Envoy for the LRA issue, Francisco Madeira, told reporters in New York.
The LRA was formed in the 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels. They then exported their activities to Uganda’s neighbouring countries, with practices that include the recruitment of children, rapes, killing and maiming, and sexual slavery.
Mr. Madeira, as well as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), Abou Moussa, and Major-General Adrian Foster, the Deputy Force Commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), spoke to reporters via video link from the Ugandan city of Entebbe, where they met to finalize the details of the task force.
The meeting was convened to “draw up what I call a regional strategy paper as has been called for by the Security Council in November 2011,” said Mr. Moussa. “We have been able to meet with the Government of Uganda and update them on developments on where we stand so far in our initiative to… address the threat of Kony and his team.”
Mr. Madeira said the regional task force headquarters will be located the South Sudanese town of Yambio, close to the border with the DRC. He said the four countries are represented in the Joint Coordination Operations Centre and have agreed on free movement of troops across borders to pursue the LRA.
Asked about a popular video about Mr. Kony and the LRA, posted recently on YouTube by a United States film-maker and promoted on social media, Mr. Moussa pointed out that although controversial, the video had brought “unprecedented attention” and raised awareness about the LRA’s activities.
“The central theme of this video remains valid – first, Kony continues to kill and maim innocent civilians; second, Kony and his people should be put under arrest,” said Mr. Moussa.
Maj-Gen. Foster said MONUSCO, which has been involved in anti-LRA activities in DRC for several years, was happy to join the new regional initiative, pointing out that the insurgents have in the past benefited from their ability to avoid capture by moving across national borders.
Although current estimates suggest that the LRA comprises less than 500 combatants operating under Mr. Kony’s leadership, its capacity to attack and terrorise and harm local communities remains, according to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
After a lull in LRA raids in the second half of last year that resulted in improved security in the DRC’s north-east, new attacks on civilians have been reported during the past few weeks in the DRC’s territories of Dungu, Faradje, Watsa, Niangara, Bondo and Ango.