Kampala’s efforts to reach peace with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are suspended, an army spokesman said yesterday, a day after Uganda and its neighbors launched a joint offensive against the rebels.
LRA chief Joseph Kony has repeatedly refused to sign a final agreement with Kampala, citing warrants against him and his lieutenants by the International Criminal Court (ICC). His stance has frustrated efforts to bring an end to Uganda’s 20-year civil war.
On Sunday, forces from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and the government of South Sudan began a military operation against Kony’s jungle hideout in eastern DR Congo.
“We are attacking the camps. So for now the peace process is off,” Ugandan army spokesman Major Paddy Ankunda said. “We still think that if there is an opportunity to re-open negotiations we will do it.”
The attack, in which the forces raided and set an LRA rebels’ camp on fire in the Garamba region, ended a two-year ceasefire between the Ugandan army and the rebels.
“The three armed forces successfully attacked the main body and destroyed the main camp of Kony code-named camp Swahili, setting it on fire,” said a statement signed by the chiefs of military intelligence from the three participating forces.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo (MONUC) said it had been warned of the operation but was not actively involved.
“MONUC was not involved in the operation’s preparations but it had been informed by Uganda,” spokesman Jean-Paul Dietrich said.
David Nyekorach-Matsanga, the LRA spokesman, condemned Sunday’s attacks but said they were still committed to peace.
“Yesterday’s attack was regrettable and will not solve the problems of northern Uganda. But the LRA is not going to retaliate,” Nyekorach-Matsanga said. “I have spoken to my commanders on the ground, including general Kony and he has told me that he intends to show restraint and that the LRA will not do anything to escalate the situation.”
He said rebels “remain open to dialogue.”
The LRA and Ugandan government have been engaged in peace talks led by the government of South Sudan for more than two years. The peace agreement was finalized in April and inked by Kampala, but the LRA chief has refused to sign.
The end of last month was identified by some parties as his last chance, but after indicating that he would sign, Kony again balked.
The LRA supremo took charge in 1988 of a regional rebellion among northern Uganda’s ethnic Acholi minority. He is accused by the ICC of raping, mutilating and murdering civilians as well as forcefully recruiting child soldiers.
The Ugandan government has expressed frustration at Kony’s repeated no-shows and has previously warned it could launch military operations against him if he failed to comply to the terms of the deal agreed by his delegation in 2006.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced in the two decades of fighting between the LRA and the government.