'The LRA Cannot Be Wished Away Or Denied As A Problem'
The American-based NGO, Enough, have released a report on the killings and abductions by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in DR Congo. The NGO, which has been monitoring the movements of the LRA in DRC and Central African Republic, says in its latest report that the rebels have committed many unreported atrocities in Congo. Sunday Monitor’s Risdel Kasasira interviewed their field researcher, Mr Ledio Cakaj. Excerpts:-
The Ugandan army has disputed your reports that LRA rebels have killed 1,800 and abducted 1,400 people in Democratic Republic of Congo in the last 18 months. What is your take?
The numbers were compiled using United Nations and international and national organisations figures as well as my own research. It is likely these numbers are still low as the numbers represent only confirmed cases. Many more deaths and abductions go unreported. I have no interest in inflating, or making up numbers. It would be interesting to hear why UPDF officials think the numbers are inflated.
Do you know the whereabouts of Joseph Kony and his commanders Dominic Ongwen and Okot Odhiambo?
I do not know for sure where they are. Based on research I conducted in the Central African Republic (CAR) at the beginning of March, I believe Kony crossed into DR Congo on March 7 with about 150 fighters. He is very likely to be in Bas Uele District in north-eastern DR Congo. Ongwen has been ‘in charge’ of DR Congo for the last 14 months. He has been stationed in Haut Uele, northwest of Dungu, not too far from Garamba National Park, where the LRA used to be based before Operation Lightning Thunder of December 14, 2008. Odhiambo might still be in CAR. Together with Okot Odek, he was believed to have tried to connect with Sudanese army officers near South Darfur in January 2010.
Last year, Kony directed all fighters to follow him to Darfur. But we have again heard reports that he has crossed back to Central African Republic. What is his motive?
Kony’s motive is to find guns, ammunition and supplies and move as much as possible to evade the UPDF hunt. I believe that DR Congo is of strategic importance to him as the country is closest to Uganda, but being in CAR is also important, as it stretches the UPDF supply lines to their limits. Kony hopes to tire out the UPDF to the point where the army would give up.
Do you have an estimate of how many fighters Kony has?
I believe he has about 400 fighters, with at least 200 in DR Congo and the rest in CAR. This was the case by last December. The numbers and their location have certainly changed. The LRA have also abducted many children aged between 10 and 14 who they train to fight. In the last 14 months, the LRA have used children from CAR to fight in DR Congo and Congolese children to fight in CAR. So the number of fighters might be bigger than 400.
How do you follow his movements?
I get most of my information from people who had been kidnapped and managed to escape. I also talk to all other actors involved, including the UPDF, the Congolese, Sudanese, CAR armies and United Nations sources. But former abductees have the best information in terms of the movement of LRA fighters. The local population of countries where LRA operates are also aware of their bases, their movement etc.
Why have MONUC and Congolese forces failed to protect the civilian population in DR Congo?
MONUC forces on the ground are too few. A thousand peacekeepers are covering a vast area with little or no infrastructure. MONUC can certainly do more when it comes to civilian protection, but they need more troops and presence in LRA-affected areas. The Congolese army has a 6,000 strong presence, but they lack the willingness and discipline to fight the LRA and protect the population. Part of the problem with the Congolese army is that many of the soldiers are former rebels themselves from the Kivus in southeastern DR Congo, who never underwent any training. As part of their peace deals with the Congolese government, these former rebels were given Congolese army uniforms and were sent to fight the LRA. The lack of training and discipline in general has led to mass abuses against the civilian population whom they are supposed to protect. However, better army leadership can go a long way to improve Congolese army behaviour.
Does Kony receive support from Sudan as some reports have claimed?
While this was the case in the past as Kony himself claimed in 2005, it is difficult to know for sure. Reports I get from the field have been inconclusive, but there is certainly a strong suspicion that support from Sudan never really ceased.
Is there a possibility of Kony attacking Uganda again?
I strongly believe that if the UPDF fails to eliminate or otherwise engage the top leadership of the LRA, there exists no other force in DR Congo and CAR to stop the LRA from coming back again. If not coming back to Uganda proper, certainly very close to it on the DR Congo side. It is very important that the Ugandan government does not give up addressing the LRA issue. As shown clearly in the past, the LRA will not and cannot be wished away or simply be denied as a problem.