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Africans join forces to fight the LRA

Southern Sudan, Uganda, and Congo launched operation Lightning Thunder this week to flush the Lord's Resistance Army out of its base in northern Congo.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 17, 2008

An armed fighter of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) stood guard in this November 2006 file photo. LRA chief Joseph Kony (not shown) has said he will not sign a peace deal until the International Criminal Court scraps its arrest warrant for him.

Stuart Price/Getty Images/AFP/NEWSCOM/FILE

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Johannesburg, South Africa

Tired of waiting for Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony – leader of the feared Lord's Resistance Army – to come out of the forest to disarm, troops from three African countries this week went into the forest to get him.

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The three countries – Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Southern Sudan – are unlikely allies and have nurtured differences among themselves that have occasionally led to war. But this time, the common goal of getting rid of Mr. Kony and the LRA overcame their differences.

"The goal was so important we made a deal with the Ugandans, even if we have not always been in agreement in the past," said Lambert Mende, a representative for the Southern Sudanese government, on the second day of the joint operation. "Our three governments decided on a joint strike to eradicate this breeding ground of terrorists who take our people hostage, particularly our children."

It is still too early to know if the joint military operation – launched on Sunday in the forested border region of Congo known as Garamba – will be successful in its goal of routing troops loyal to Kony, whose ragtag militia is blamed for abducting more than 20,000 child soldiers, maiming and killing tens of thousands of civilians, and displacing more than 2 million. Many human rights activists and regional experts warn that a military operation against Kony is only likely to spark more war and retaliation by the remnants, but even critics admit that the joint operation is a positive sign for this corner of Africa where common problems are rarely addressed with common solutions.

"This is going to be extremely costly in terms of civilian lives; a containment strategy would have been much more effective," says François Grignon, head of the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. "In terms of regional stability, the fact that Southern Sudan, the DRC, and Uganda are working together will be part of any regional peace in terms of dealing with LRA and other armed groups in the region. You can't have peacekeepers forever. Cooperation is a must to solve hostilities."

Attacks cross porous borders

Like the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistani border, Kony's LRA has long used the porous borderlands between Congo, Uganda, Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR) as a base area to launch attacks against the Ugandan government and villagers in all three countries.

Peace talks, started in July 2006, appeared to be making progress, but Kony refused to come out of the bush to sign the peace agreement and disarm his militia.

Kony's terms for surrender – that the International Criminal Court must first lift charges of war crimes against him, so that he could face trial in Uganda instead – were never met.

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