The United Nations and African Union (AU) will seek increased funding early next year for a strategy against the armed group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and its impact on communities in Central Africa, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.
“The most urgent step revolves around the need to promptly finalize the LRA programmatic document and mobilize sufficient resources for its full implementation,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), Abou Moussa, told the a Council meeting on the region, which covered UNOCA’s activities and LRA-affected areas.
“Once the programmatic document is finalized, my office, in partnership with the office of the African Union Special Envoy on the LRA, plans to organize a resource mobilization forum early next year with the aim of raising funds for the most critical areas of the strategy,” Mr. Moussa added.
UNOCA is the world body’s regional office charged – along with the African Union (AU) envoy on the issue, Francisco Madeira – with helping coordinate a regional strategy to deal with the armed group, amongst its other tasks.
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 neighbours, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.
The group is notorious for carrying out massacres in villages, mutilating its victims and abducting boys for use as child soldiers, while girls are often forced into sexual slavery.
Although current estimates suggest that the LRA comprises less than 500 combatants operating under the leadership of Joseph Kony, its capacity to attack and terrorise and harm local communities remains, according to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). This past year has seen the armed group active in areas such as the eastern DRC.
The strategy was endorsed by the UN Security Council in June. It focuses on five key strategic objectives to address the LRA threat: support for the full operationalization and implementation of the AU regional cooperation initiative against the LRA; enhancing efforts to promote the protection of civilians; and expanding current disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration activities to cover all LRA-affected areas.
The other objectives are to promote a coordinated humanitarian and child protection response in these areas, and to support LRA-affected governments in the fields of peacebuilding, human rights, rule of law and development, to enable them to establish State authority across their territories.
In relation to the first objective, in September the United Nations welcomed the handover of 2,500 soldiers – 2,000 from the Uganda People’s Defence Force and 500 from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – to the AU regional task force established to hunt down LRA members.
In his remarks to the Council meeting today, Mr. Moussa stated that a critical element for the advent of sustainable peace and security in Central Africa is sub-regional integration. He noted that UNOCA has continued to work closely with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (known by the French acronym CEMAC) and other sub-regional bodies, as well as the high-level political authorities of the sub-region in the pursuit of that goal.
The Special Representative said that while the overall peace and security situation in the region remains stable and significant progress has been registered in curbing the activities of “armed groups and negative forces,” Central Africa continues to experience some challenges in this area.
“Violence perpetrated by armed groups, including in eastern [DR] Congo and countries affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and a number of other developments with regional and cross-border consequences greatly challenge our efforts to promote sustainable peace and stability in the sub-region,” he said, noting, however, that, as mentioned in the Secretary-General’s latest report on the topic, there is also good news, particularly on the economic front with countries continuing to register significant growth rates.
The UN envoy noted that there is increasing confidence being placed in the world body’s conflict prevention work – particularly that of UNOCA – by regional actors in Central Africa, including Governments, regional organizations, political leaders and representatives of civil society.
“Our growing interactions with those actors and, above all, their multiple requests for support show that there is a growing appreciation that establishing a regional political office in Central Africa was both useful and timely,” Mr. Moussa said. “They increasingly acknowledge that the creation of UNOCA has filled a preventive-diplomacy gap.”
The requests received by UNOCA have covered areas such as mediation and facilitation of dialogue between opposition political parties and those in government, support for capacity building for regional organizations, mobilization of support and resources from the international community for actors in the sub-region and facilitation of workshops, seminars and training.
“Another example of political commitment at the highest level demonstrated by regional leaders is reflected in the ongoing efforts to organize a regional summit on piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea,” Mr. Moussa said, noting the efforts of UNOCA and the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) to help prepare a regional summit of heads of state and government of the Gulf of Guinea, as requested in a Council resolution in late February.
In addition to citing other examples of the level of political engagement and commitment among Central Africa’s political leadership on regional issues of peace and security, the Special Representative noted the “critical challenges” impacting upon the effectiveness of combined regional efforts in Central Africa.
“With increasing and competing priorities in the pursuit of its mandate, there is a clear disparity between resources available to UNOCA and tasks that it is required to perform,” Mr. Moussa added. “This is all the more so as expectations from regional actors continue to grow regarding the potential role of UNOCA in addressing some of the peace and security challenges facing the subregion.”