Uganda's LRA killed 2,500 people, abducted 697 children over past 18 months

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted more than 697 children over the past 18 months and killed an estimated 2,500 people, according to new reports from rights monitors.

James Akena/Reuters
A fighter in Uganda's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) fighters is seen during consultations in Koch Goma camp for internally displaced persons in Gulu, 218 miles north of Kampala, in November 2007. Human rights monitors say the rebel group has abducted more than 697 children over the past 18 months and killed an estimated 2,500 people.

Human Rights Watch and Enough have both released recent reports on the activity of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The Ugandan rebel group has abducted more than 697 children in northeastern Congo and southeastern Central African Republic over the past 18 months and killed an estimated 2,500 people. The violence has been underreported because the areas they operate in are very remote and the LRA doesn't play much of a political role in the region.

"The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight," Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, is quoted saying in the report.

The LRA is a weird rebel group. Since it was pushed out of Uganda in 2005, the group has spread itself over thousands of square miles and over three countries (Uganda, Sudan, and the Central African Republic). It has gone from being an almost entirely Acholi group to one where most of the footsoldiers are now Zande. According to accounts from researchers working on the LRA, the rationale behind their incredibly abusive behavior is partly internal: As they don't have a clear ideological program (at least not one that can attract recruits) and most of their soldiers are abductees and now no longer even from the same ethnic or linguistic background, they need violence as a way to socialize and indoctrinate their soldiers. Killing, in other words, often does not happen in response to contested military authority, but is used as a way make obedient soldiers.

(Other motives could be: using violence as a way to intimidate locals to provide them with resources and sending a message to foreign actors that the rebel group is strong and ruthless.)

Peace talks broke down when rebel leader Joseph Kony refused to sign a deal in 2008 – satellite phone intercepts indicate that he has no intention of handing himself in. Most advocates I have spoken to, be they from governments, human rights groups, or the United Nations, think that Kony will have to be killed to bring an end to the violence, although human rights groups have a hard time saying this in public. Some advocacy groups think that sending an international military force could set a good precedent for the execution of International Criminal Court warrants (Kony was the first indictee of the ICC).

International intervention may finally be in the cards. US Congress (which has been in a frenzy of Central Africa-related legislating) passed a bill in May requiring the Obama administration to support military and diplomatic efforts to deal with the LRA. The State Department is required to submit a strategy for this by the end of November. In private, US officials are skeptical about sending troops, but there have been suggestions that they could provide intelligence (they already do some of that) and financing for other countries to send in special forces.

In the meantime, Kony might be eyeing to get more support from Khartoum, a former ally who used to back him when it was at war with the SPLA. LRA troops have recently crossed into Darfur from the Central African Republic, and a defector suggested that they met with Sudanese officials there. As Sudan heads toward its all-important referendum on southern independence next year, a mercenary job or two might open by for the LRA.

--- Jason Stearns blogs at Congo Siasa.

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