Lord's Resistance Army insurgency
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|Lord's Resistance Army insurgency|
A fire burning in an IDP camp in Uganda
| Uganda People's Defence Force
Sudan People's Liberation Army
Military of DR Congo
Central African Republic
|Lord's Resistance Army|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Yoweri Museveni
| Joseph Kony
|Casualties and losses|
|1987–2009: ~12,000 dead|
The Lord's Resistance Army insurgency is a guerrilla campaign waged since 1987 by the Christian sectarian Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, operating mainly in northern Uganda, but also in South Sudan and eastern DR Congo. The movement's, led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the "spokesperson" of God and a spirit medium, aims are to overthrow Yoweri Museveni's Ugandan government and to establish a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and Acholi tradition, according to its leaders.
The conflict, one of Africa's longest running, resulted in a very severe humanitarian crisis. The LRA is accused of widespread human rights violations, including mutilation, torture, rape, the abduction of civilians, the use of child soldiers, and a number of massacres.
The January 1986 overthrow of President Tito Okello, an ethnic Acholi, by the National Resistance Army (NRA) of south west Ugandan Yoweri Museveni marked a period of intense turmoil. The Acholi feared the loss of their traditional dominance of the national military; they were also deeply concerned that the NRA would seek retribution for the brutal counterinsurgency, particularly the actions of the army in the Luwero triangle. By August of that year, a full-blown popular insurgency had developed in northern regions that were occupied by government forces.
Early history of the rebellion (1987 to 1994)
In January 1987, Joseph Kony made his first appearance as a spirit medium, one of many who emerged after the initial success of the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Auma. Former Uganda People's Democratic Army commander Odong Latek convinced Kony to adopt conventional guerrilla tactics, primarily surprise attacks on civilian targets, such as villages. The LRA also occasionally carried out large-scale attacks to underline the inability of the government to protect the populace. Until 1991 the LRA raided the populace for supplies, which were carried away by villagers who were abducted for short periods. The fact that some NRA units were known for their brutal actions ensured that the LRA were given at least passive support by segments of the Acholi population
March 1991 saw the start of "Operation North", which combined efforts to destroy the LRA while cutting away its roots of support among the population through heavy-handed tactics. As part of Operation North, Acholi Betty Oyella Bigombe, the Minister charged with ending the insurgency, created "Arrow Groups" mostly armed with bows and arrows, as a form of local defence. As the LRA was armed with modern weaponry, the bow-and-arrow groups were overpowered. Nevertheless, the creation of the Arrow Groups angered Kony, who began to feel that he no longer had the support of the population. In response the LRA mutilated numerous Acholi whom they believed to be government supporters. While the government efforts were a failure, the LRA reaction caused many Acholi to finally turn against the insurgency. However, this was tempered by the deep-seated antagonism towards the occupying government forces.
After the failure of Operation North, Minister Bigombe initiated the first face-to-face meeting between representatives of the LRA and government. The LRA asked for a general amnesty for their combatants and stated that they would not surrender, but were willing to "return home." However, the government stance was hampered by disagreement over the credibility of the LRA negotiators and political infighting. In particular, the military had learned that Kony was negotiating with the Sudanese government for support while talking to Bigombe, and felt that Kony was simply trying to buy time. At a second meeting on 10 January 1994, Kony asked for six months to regroup his troops. By early February the tone of the negotiations was growing increasingly acrimonious, and following a meeting on 2 February, the LRA broke off negotiations stating that they felt that the NRA was trying to entrap them. Four days later, President Yoweri Museveni announced a seven-day deadline for the LRA to surrender. This ultimatum ended the Bigombe initiative.
An international conflict (1994 to 2002)
Two weeks after Museveni delivered his ultimatum of 6 February 1994, it was reported that LRA fighters had crossed the northern border and established bases in southern Sudan with the approval of the Khartoum government. Sudanese aid was a response to Ugandan support for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting in the civil war in the south of the country. Also, convinced that the Acholi were now collaborating with the Museveni government, Kony began to target civilians with his increased military strength. Mutilations became commonplace (especially cutting off ears, lips, nose), and 1994 saw the first mass abduction of children and youth. The most famous of these was the Aboke abductions of 139 female students in October 1996. As most of the LRA combatants are abducted children, a military offensive against the LRA is widely perceived by the Acholi as a massacre of victims. Government attempts to destroy the rebels are thus viewed as another cause for grievance by the Acholi. The moral ambiguity of this situation, in which abducted young rebels are both the victims and perpetrators of brutal acts, is central to the conflicted attitudes of many Acholi towards the rebels.
The creation of the government "protected villages" beginning in 1996 further deepened the antagonistic attitude that many Acholi have toward the government, especially as the population continues to be attacked by the LRA even within the "protected camps." The camps are also crowded, unsanitary, and miserable places to live. Meanwhile, in 1997 the Sudanese government of the National Islamic Front began to recede from its previous hard-line stance. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the relationship between Sudan and Uganda abruptly changed. Cross-border tensions eased as support to proxy forces fell. Some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the war began to return to their homes. The number of people displaced by the conflict declined to about half a million, and people began to talk openly of the day when the "protected camps" would be disbanded.
The insurgency flares (March 2002 to September 2005)
In March 2002, the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) launched a massive military offensive, named "Operation Iron Fist", against the LRA bases in southern Sudan, with agreement from the National Islamic Front. This agreement, coupled with the return of Ugandan forces that were deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo upon the official end of the Second Congo War, created what the Ugandan government felt was an ideal situation in which to end a conflict that had become both an embarrassment and political liability. After several months of uncertainty, LRA forces began crossing back into Uganda and carrying out attacks on a scale and of a brutality not seen since 1995 to 1996, resulting in widespread displacement and suffering in regions, such as Soroti, that had never previously been touched by the insurgency.
A series of diplomatic initiatives during these years failed, especially since Kony's negotiating position remained uncertain, but the conflict gained unprecedented international coverage. During a November 2003 field visit to Uganda, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland stated, "I cannot find any other part of the world that is having an emergency on the scale of Uganda, that is getting such little international attention." In December 2003, Ugandan President Museveni referred the LRA to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to determine if the LRA is guilty of international war crimes.
From the middle of 2004 on, rebel activity dropped markedly under intense military pressure. The government was also the target of increasingly pointed criticism from the international community for its failure to end the conflict. International aid agencies questioned the Ugandan government's reliance on military force and its commitment to a peaceful resolution. The army also admitted that it had recruited child soldiers who escaped the LRA into the military.
In mid-September 2005, a band of LRA fighters, led by Vincent Otti, crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the first time. President Museveni declared that, if Congolese authorities did not disarm the LRA combatants, the UPDF would be sent across the border in pursuit. This sparked a diplomatic row between the governments of the DRC and Uganda, with both militaries making a show of force along their border, while the Congolese ambassador to the United Nations sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General demanding that an economic embargo be placed on Uganda in retaliation.
Juba peace talks (2006 to 2008)
A series of ongoing meetings have been held in Juba since July 2006 between the government of Uganda and the LRA. The talks are mediated by Riek Machar, the Vice President of Southern Sudan, and by the Community of Sant'Egidio. The talks, which resulted in a ceasefire by September 2006, have been described as the best chance for a negotiated settlement since the peace initiative of Betty Bigombe in 1994.
These talks were agreed to after Joseph Kony released a video in May in which he denied committing atrocities and seemed to call for an end to hostilities, in response to an announcement by Museveni that he would guarantee the safety of Kony if peace was agreed to by July. In late June 2006, the Government of Southern Sudan formally invited Uganda to attend peace talks, and on 14 July 2006 talks began in Juba. On 4 August 2006, Vincent Otti declared a unilateral ceasefire and asked the Ugandan government to reciprocate. ICC indictee Raska Lukwiya was killed in battle on 12 August 2006. The government and LRA signed a truce on 26 August 2006. Under the terms of the agreement, LRA forces will leave Uganda and gather in two assembly areas protected by the government of Sudan. The Ugandan government agreed not to attack those areas. LRA rebels had begun gathering in the assembly areas by mid-September. Talks continued to be hindered by demands and counter-demands. Meanwhile, the government began a process of creating "satellite camps" to decongest the main IDP camps.
In broader context, the government of Southern Sudan viewed the talks as a means of ridding itself of a foreign army that is complicating their delicate relationship with the Khartoum government. The request by the Ugandan Government for ICC to suspend war crimes indictments against leaders of the LRA was condemned by international human rights groups but largely supported by leaders and civilians within northern Uganda.
By mid-2007, thousands of IDPs had moved into the decongestion camps. However, the populace remains cautious about the prospect of a peace deal, with many refusing to return to their ancestral homes until a definitive end to the insurgency.
Following a suspension in the peace talks, the Juba Initiative Project enabled the resumption of the talks in May 2007, thanks to the efforts of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for LRA-affected areas, Joaquim Chissano. The talks were again mediated by the Government of Southern Sudan, but with the support of the United Nations and logistic facilitation from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
On 20 August 2007, Uganda declared that it is seeking legal advice on setting a war crimes court. In November 2007, an LRA delegation led by Martin Ojul journeyed to Kampala to restate their commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Ojul later led the delegation on a tour of northern Uganda to meet victims of the insurgency and ask their forgiveness. However, reports surfaced that LRA deputy commander Otti had been executed on or around 8 October 2007 over an internal power struggle with Kony.
War preparations and offensive (2008)
In June 2008 diplomats reported that the Lord's Resistance army bought new weapons and was recruiting new soldiers, by force as usual, adding 1,000 recruits to the 600 soldiers it already had. At about the same time, Uganda, South Sudan, and Congo-Kinshasa agreed to a plan to crush the movement together. A South Sudanese minister said the rebels killed 14 of its soldiers on 7 June 2008.
The LRA is alleged to have killed at least 400 people in attacks on a number of villages in the DR Congo on and after Christmas Day, 2008.
Throughout 2009, the LRA was blamed for several attacks in Southern Sudan, DR Congo and Central African Republic. In March 2010 news emerged about a December 2009 massacre in DR Congo perpetrated by the LRA.
The insurgency was historically confined to the region known as Acholiland, consisting of the districts of Kitgum, Gulu, and Pader, though since 2002 violence has overflowed into other Ugandan districts. The LRA also operated across the porous border region with Southern Sudan and most recently into the northeastern Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The plight of the affected peoples has received little media coverage in the developed world. Not until April 2004 did the UN Security Council issue a formal condemnation. A 2005 poll of humanitarian professionals, media personalities, academics and activists identified the conflict in the north of Uganda as the second worst "forgotten" humanitarian emergency in the world, after the conflicts of the neighbouring DRC.
The U.S. government estimates that up to 12,000 people have been killed in the violence, with many more dying from disease and malnutrition as a direct result of the conflict. Nearly two million civilians have been forced to flee their homes, living in internally displaced person (IDP) camps and within the safety of larger settlements, sleeping on street corners and in other public spaces.
|War violence experienced by abductees|
|Witnessed a killing||78%|
|Tied or locked up||68%|
|Received a severe beating||63%|
|Forced to steal or destroy property||58%|
|Forced to abuse dead bodies||23%|
|Forced to attack a stranger||22%|
|Forced to kill a stranger||20%|
|Forced to kill an opposing soldier in battle||15%|
|Forced to attack a family member or friend||14%|
|Forced to kill a family member or friend||8%|
While many abductees are taken to carry items looted from raided villages, some are also used as soldiers and sex slaves. The group performs abductions primarily from the Acholi people, who have borne the brunt of the 18 year LRA campaign. The United Nations estimated in the mid-2000s that around 25,000 children have been kidnapped by the LRA since 1987. However, several research have concluded that the figure was significantly higher. In June 2007, UC Berkeley's Human Rights Centre researchers worked with reception centers in northern Uganda to compile a database of 25,000 former abductees that went through reception centers. By triangulating data from different sources on the number of former abductees, the research conservatively estimate that the LRA has abducted 24,000 to 38,000 children and 28,000 to 37,000 adults as of April 2006. The research further found that while women represented about a third of all the abductees, they tended to stay longer with the LRA compared to men. Women are forced to serve as sexual and domestic servants. According to a survey of 750 youth in Kitgum and Pader, at least 66,000 youth between the ages of 13 and 30 have been abducted. One-third of all boys and one-sixth of all girls had been taken for at least one day. Of these, 66% of males were taken for longer than two weeks, while the equivalent number for females was 46%. If a female was gone for more than two weeks, there was a one in four chance that she had not returned. Males were again found to be taken for longer periods of time on average, with two in five males that were abducted for more than two weeks not having returned. The number of abductions was greatest in 2002 and 2003, perhaps in retaliation for Operation Iron Fist. However, the average age of abductees has risen from about 13 in 1994 to nearly 18 in 2004, coinciding with the rise in number, and fall in length, of abductions.
While the LRA now appears to consist of less than two thousand combatants that are under intense pressure from the Ugandan military, the government has been unable to end the insurgency to date. Ongoing peace negotiations are complicated by an investigation and trial preparation by the International Criminal Court. The conflict continues to slow down Uganda's development efforts, costing the poor country's economy a cumulative total of at least $1.33 billion, which is equivalent to 3% of GDP, or $100 million annually.
At the height of the conflict, each night, children between the ages of 8 and 14, referred to as "Night Commuters" or "Night Dwellers" would walk up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) from IDP camps to larger towns, especially Gulu, in search of safety.
Initiatives to raise international awareness for these children included the " GuluWalk" and the work of the Resolve Uganda. Night commuters are also the subject of documentaries such as Stolen Children, War/Dance, and Invisible Children.
The Invisible Children documentary sponsored the Global Night Commute, an event similar to GuluWalk. On April 29, 2006, over 80,000 youths from around the world converged on urban centers in 130 major cities around the world in solidarity with displaced Ugandan children. The Invisible Children organization also raised awareness for those in the Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) through its "Displace Me" event held in 15 cities across the US on April 28, 2007. Over 68,000 people participated in the event which required participants to sleep outside in "homes" made out of cardboard, similar to those in the IDPs.
Another program, The Name Campaign, asks people to wear nameplate necklaces imprinted with the first name of one of the thousands of abducted children as a means of raising public awareness.
Danny Glover and Don Cheadle have both been vocal advocates on behalf of the children of Northern Uganda.