Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Fears of return of LRA as hunt for Kony ends

SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE:The move by the US and its African allies to call off the hunt for the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army might allow it to regroup

The Guardian, KAMPALA

The US and its African allies have called off their hunt for Joseph Kony, one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, who is blamed for the deaths of at least 100,000 people and the suffering of millions more in central Africa.

Kony leads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has a US$5 million price on his head. He was one of the first people the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague indicted for crimes against humanity.

About 150 US Special Forces soldiers and more than 1,500 Ugandan troops have been hunting Kony for almost a decade across a swath of remote forest and brush along the borders of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

The 56-year-old is believed to be moving with between 20 and 30 loyal fighters, several wives, his two sons and hundreds of followers.

Many analysts believe he is hiding in the disputed, mineral-rich area of Kafia Kingi in South Darfur, Sudan, from where he and his sons can organize smuggling operations undetected.

Other groups loyal to the LRA, which Kony founded nearly 30 years ago, are scattered across central Africa.

Ugandan troops earlier last month began leaving the Central African Republic. The US Special Forces, deployed as part of a billion-dollar mission to kill or capture Kony, have also begun to withdraw. Officials and senior soldiers in both Uganda and the US say the LRA is no longer a threat.

“The mission to neutralize the LRA has now been successfully achieved,” the Ugandan army said in a statement.

Analysts say Kony and the LRA are a shadow of the threat they were 10 or even 20 years ago, when they could deploy thousands of fighters and terrorized wide areas of central Africa.

“The LRA has been in survival mode for some time,” said Ben Shepherd, an expert in central Africa at London’s Chatham House think tank.

Pamela Faber at the Center for Naval Analyses in Washington said the group, which is much diminished by defections, internal purges and battle casualties, was a vestige of its former self.

However, many say the LRA — known for atrocious brutality against civilians including mass abductions and rapes, executions and torture — could still cause serious harm.

Norbert Mao, an opposition politician and former chairman of Gulu district in northern Uganda, where the group emerged in the 1980s, said the withdrawal of troops gave it a chance to regroup.

“Now that the Uganda government is stopping the search for LRA, it might become a mercenary force that can be used by any other groups to terrorize civilians. They will be soldiers of fortune and that’s a threat to the region,” he said.

Kony is now unlikely to appear before the ICC, but the trial of Dominic Ongwen, one of his key lieutenants, started earlier this year. It has revealed appalling details of the LRA’s atrocities.

The charges against Ongwen include murder, attempted murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, conscription of children under the age of 15 into an armed group and, for the first time, “forced pregnancy” and forced marriage.

The group has been blamed for the deaths of about 100,000 people and the abduction of 60,000 children.

Former LRA abductees say they were forced to maim and kill friends, neighbors and relatives, and participate in gruesome rites such as drinking their victims’ blood. Ongwen himself was abducted by the LRA when still a teenager.

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