SEPTEMBER 10, 2009: Are LRA Backed by Khartoum?

Are Resurgent Ugandan Rebels Backed by Khartoum?

Source: AlertNet

By Frank Nyakairu

Between 2004 and 2008, I made six visits to remote bush camps of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), one of Africa's most feared rebel groups.

The camps were deep in the wilds of northern Uganda, northeast Congo and southern Sudan. On each trip, I encountered small bands of dreadlocked child soldiers. Most had been snatched from their homes in northern Uganda and forced to carry arms for the cult-like group that became famous for cutting off the lips of its victims.

On the run from the Ugandan army, their leader wanted for war crimes, the boy-soldiers I met lived off food looted from local villages. They also hunted game with Kalashnikov rifles - antelope, buffalo and the endangered northern white rhino.

That was the LRA I saw between 2004 and 2008.

Today, the group that has long terrorised northern Uganda is on the offensive again. This time, it is said to be a multi-national force, better armed and operating across a swathe of central Africa.

"We have not rescued many Ugandans recently," Ugandan army spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye said in a telephone interview from Kampala. "We are rescuing Central Africans, Congolese and Sudanese.

"That makes it a regional issue. Through its composition, its operational spectrum and the impact of its military activities, it has been trying to look for survival by spreading its tentacles in the region."

Kulayigye is not alone in saying that a fresh campaign of abductions of children from several countries has made the LRA into a more lethal, regional force.

"They are estimated to be about 2,500 (strong) and operating in two languages, Acholi and Arabic," said a Ugandan intelligence official who declined to be identified.

Acholi - the language of the Acholi people in northern Uganda - is the mother tongue of LRA leader Joseph Kony, a former alter boy and self-proclaimed prophet.

For most of its two-decade history, the LRA has swelled its ranks with forced recruits from his Acholi homeland, even as it terrorised the Acholi population and its neighbours with massacres and mutilations.

But Arabic as an operating language is a new phenomenon. Some intelligence sources say it reflects a renewal of relations with the government of northern Sudan that threatens to destabilise Sudan's own peace process after two decades of civil war.

It wouldn't be the first time the LRA has been accused of playing a role in Sudan's north-south conflict, which killed around 2 million and uprooted 4 million more....

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