Profile: The Lord’s Resistance Army

Ugandan rebel force has gained international notoriety for terrorising civilians.

The LRA has been accused of massacres in Uganda and neighbouring countries [File: EPA]

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) began life in 1988 in northern Uganda.

It emerged from the remnants of the Holy Spirit Movement army founded by Alice Auma Lakwena, a priestess and distant relative of Joseph Kony, the LRA leader.

Kony, a former catechist, capitalised on a power vacuum created by the defeat of resistance movements in the north – some of which abandoned their military campaigns and made peace with the government in the 1990s – to start the LRA.

The group first operated as the United Holy Salvation Army before it was named the Uganda Christian Army/Movement and eventually the LRA. It adopted this name some time in 1992.

The LRA gained a reputation for brutality as it waged an armed rebellion seeking to remove the government of Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president, and rule the country on the Biblical ten commandments.

The vast majority of the LRA fighters came from the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader.

Sustained government offensives have weakened the group, which is now estimated to number less than 100 fighters.

Forced recruitment

Most of the fighters were forcibly recruited into rebel ranks by fighters who often killed those who were reluctant to join the LRA or hacked off their ears, lips and limbs.

In some particularly gruesome instances, the LRA publicly cooked bodies of civilians in pots.

Although the group has been basically a ragtag army that often resorted to banditry to survive, it took the Ugandan government nearly two decades to rein them in.

After a series of defeats at the hands of the Ugandan military, the LRA sought sanctuary in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

There, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg, they have become a “regional problem spread between three countries” – the DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Part of the reason the Ugandan government had difficulty defeating the LRA was because of the military support they were allegedly receiving from the Sudanese government.

Sudan insisted that Uganda supported the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement, which fought the Khartoum government for decades until they signed a peace deal in January 2005.

‘Protected villages’

Women and children have borne the brunt of the LRA.

In 1996, the LRA raided a girls school and herded scores of students off into the bushes.

Kony is still on the run after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him

Some of the students died in captivity while others were later freed.

Female abductees were often forced to become wives of the rebels and some contracted Aids from their “husbands”.

The government struggled to protect villagers from the LRA, eventually setting up what it called “protected villages” to house internally displaced people.

Although the camps were within the army’s areas of operation, the LRA occasionally attacked the IDP camps and massacred civilians.

In 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague indicted Kony – along with several of his senior commanders – for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The indictment was a sticking a point in negotiations – which began in 2006 – brokered by the southern Sudan government between the LRA and the Ugandan government to try to end the conflict peacefully.

Irrevocable warrant

The LRA wanted their leaders to be tried by Ugandan courts, but the ICC has maintained that once the arrest warrants are issued, they cannot be taken back.

The court also doubted the independence of Ugandan courts and their ability to deliver justice of the kind that meets international standards.

Kony never once turned up for the talks, often sending representatives to the talks who made “unreasonable” demands from the government.

The talks collapsed in 2008 after the LRA and the government accused each other of violating terms of the ceasefire agreement.

By this time the LRA did not have any more bases in Uganda and the rebels were holed up in the jungles of the DRC.

In December 2008, a major offensive was launched against Kony by a joint force of Ugandan, Rwandan and Congolese troops, but he escaped and remains at large.

Source: Al Jazeera

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