NOVEMBER 26, 2010: Obama Plans to Disarm Ugandan LRA Rebels

Obama Plans to Disarm Ugandan LRA Rebels

SOURCE: Leadership

US President Barack Obama has outlined a plan to disarm one of Africa's most feared rebel militias, the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army.

It aims to defuse the spiralling bloodshed in central Africa by removing the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony. LRA fighters will also be encouraged to defect or lay down their arms.

US ally Uganda has for more than 20 years failed to defeat the LRA, notorious for kidnapping children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.

LRA leaders initially claimed to be fighting to install a theocracy in Uganda based on the Biblical 10 commandments.

But they now roam across parts of Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR), as well as north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The US has given logistical and intelligence support in the past to the armies of Uganda, Southern Sudan and DR Congo.

But their concerted push in December 2008 to kill LRA commanders failed - the group dispersed and attacked churches and villages in DR Congo that year.

The strategy to support the disarmament of the Lord's Resistance Army is pretty thin on detail.

It said increasing the protection of civilians is the first objective but the US president does not give any clue as to how this will be done. Civilians in villages are extremely vulnerable to attacks by the LRA which kidnaps children and forces them to become child soldiers.

The US strategy's second objective is to apprehend or remove from the battlefield LRA leader Joseph Kony, and his senior commanders.

The US has been assisting the Ugandan army in trying achieve this goal but with little success. One failed attack almost two years ago simply prompted the LRA to hit out - hundreds of civilians were killed.

US senators were also told that the strategy against the rebels would involve trying to get LRA fighters to defect and disarm - once again this is easier said than done, as the young fighters are brainwashed and often killed if caught trying to escape.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni will be hoping that President Obama's plan will mean lots more military support. By fighting Islamist extremists in Somalia, Uganda is already a firm friend of the US.

As long as Ugandans are fighting US enemies, President Obama can have the luxury of knowing he does not have to consider sending troops to Africa.

President Obama presented his four-point strategy for disarming the rebels to the US Congress in a letter to senators and representatives.

He was responding to US legislation passed in May promising a comprehensive strategy to put a stop to the LRA's killing, raping and mutilations. He also said it would provide a framework for the co-ordination of US efforts.

"Given the necessity of bringing political, economic, military, and intelligence support to bear in addressing the threat posed by the LRA," Mr Obama said in his letter, "the development of the strategy relied on the significant involvement of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the US Agency for International Development, and the intelligence community. All will remain engaged throughout implementation."

Mr Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and now lives an itinerant life, mainly crossing between Sudan and the CAR. Efforts to find peace over the years have not yielded fruit.

In 2008, the LRA leader was about to sign a peace deal with Uganda, negotiated by Southern Sudan, but at the last minute he refused to lay down his arms.

Witney Schneidman, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Mr Obama's plan was a significant development.

"The administration is saying it is prepared to be a partner to the government of Uganda and the government of DR Congo in eliminating the instability," he told the BBC's Network Africa.

LRA rebels often mutilate their victims, cutting off lips, ears and noses

"The elimination of Kony is a military strategic issue - highly complex and one that needs to be undertaken with very careful thought and planning.

"You're not going to see US boots on the ground but I think you're going to see the US being a partner in many other ways."

Michael Poffenberger, executive director of Resolve - a US-based campaign group that has been pressing for a new strategy to end the LRA's reign of fear - says defeating the group will be difficult.

"They purposely target communities in remote and marginalised areas where they're most likely not to generate a response from the rest of the world and that strategy has largely succeeded," he says.

Implementing the White House strategy will depend on funding but there are certain aspects of the plan that can go ahead without difficulty, he says.

"Building telecommunications infrastructure - cellphone and radio capacity - so that communities being targeted have a way of getting information out to the outside world.

"[And] improving the capacity of militaries in the region to co-ordinate amongst each and provide them with mobility support."

Last month, Uganda, CAR, Sudan and DR Congo agreed to form a joint military force to fight the militia.

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