UN: Christian extremist LRA ‘still a threat’

UN: Christian extremist LRA ‘still a threat’

Ugandan Christian extremist rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been weakened by recent attacks but remain a threat, a UN military source said Thursday.

“The LRA are weakened but still remain active. They’re still a threat,” the military spokesman of the UN mission in Congo (MONUC), Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich said.

“They attack any target, including military ones, capable of providing them with some supplies,” he stressed.

From the end of 2008 until March, the Ugandan and South Sudanese armies joined the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in an offensive aimed at crushing the rebels and their leader, Joseph Kony.

The LRA, which has been active in DR Congo for more than a decade, was then estimated at about 100 men within the country and in neighbouring South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

They have the reputation of being among the most brutal rebel forces in the world.

The FARDC has been given logistical support from MONUC to fight the LRA since April. The Congolese army has killed 344 rebels and captured 82 more, including two of Kony’s wives, according to the latest FARDC figures.

On September 14, the Ugandan army said it had killed Lieutenant-Colonel Arit Santos, an LRA commander, during a clash in the Central African Republic.

Attacks attributed to LRA have killed at least 188 civilians and displaced 68,000 in southern Sudan since January 2009, with 137 abductions also reported, according to the UN.

“Many innocent people are losing their lives every week, and the United Nations is very concerned about the killing, abduction, maiming and displacement of innocent civilians,” said Ameerah Haq, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan.

“During the last six weeks alone, 11 incidents of LRA attacks have been reported, seven of them in the first week of September,” Haq told reporters on 11 September during a visit to Yambio, the state capital of Western Equatoria.

“There is not much coming from the [Sudanese] state, they are not able to provide the security that they [people] need,” said the UN’s Haq. “While the humanitarian community is providing food and other non-food items, the food itself is becoming a magnet for LRA attacks… The answer to that is really how we can provide security around a perimeter.”

Extra troops from the south’s military, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), have been sent to the region, according to spokesman Maj-Gen Kuol Diem Kuol.

“We are working hard and doing all we can to ensure the safety of civilians in the region,” he explained.

The Ugandan-led LRA began its campaign of brutal guerrilla raids two decades ago, but has launched a fresh wave of attacks terrorising a vast swathe of land across several nations.

The guerrilla group aims to establish a theocratic government in Uganda, based on the Christian Bible and the Ten Commandments.

Their ferocious extremist attacks, with Christian rebels chopping off the limbs and lips of their victims, were often aimed more at the civilians they said they fought for than at the military.

The LRA’s top Christian extremist leaders — fugitives from the International Criminal Court — are accused of having forcibly enlisted child soldiers and sex slaves, and of slaughtering tens of thousands of people.

The radical Christian group is still enslaving children.

The main military force are Ugandan troops, whose soldiers have established camps in Sudan to try and hunt down the now mobile LRA units in southern Sudan, DRC and CAR.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has just 200 blue helmets based in the sprawling region of Western Equatoria.

Officials said the force has been stretched by a string of recent violent inter-ethnic clashes elsewhere in southern Sudan.

Its mandate, one official added, needed to be beefed up by the UN Security Council to allow active military engagement against the LRA.

“We need an integrated approach to really provide security to these people, [and] that will require the support of the UN and UNMIS,” said Jemma Nunu Kumba, the governor of Western Equatoria.

“UNMIS needs to get involved just like MONUC [the UN peacekeeping mission] in Congo [DRC], to be able to repulse the rebels when they are attacking the civilians,” he added.

Those displaced by the LRA say more effort is needed, not simply to hunt the rebels, but to provide security that would allow people to return to their homes.

“The LRA have killed our people, and they took two of my children,” said Karina Zeferino, who fled after attacks in August on her hometown of Ezo, close to Sudan’s border with CAR.

She trekked the 155km to Yambio town with her remaining young daughter.

After the attacks, peacekeepers airlifted UN staff and aid workers from Ezo by helicopter, shutting down international humanitarian work in that area.

“People are suffering, but we cannot go home because the LRA will attack again,” added Zeferino, holding her child tightly to her side. “There is no help for us there, so that is why we have come to Yambio, but it is hard here too.”

“The LRA will remain a problem and we will be unable to go home until pressure is really put on them by all sides,” said Gaaniko Bate, a leader of the ever-growing Makpandu camp in southern Sudan, which hosts some 2,530 refugees from DRC.

“These people will not be easily stopped,” he added.