SEPTEMBER 15, 2010: Ugandan bishops tell US leaders military option won't work against rebels

Ugandan bishops tell US leaders military option won't work against rebels

SOURCE: Catholic News Source, Washington

Barb Fraze

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two Ugandan bishops -- one Catholic and one Anglican -- traveled across Africa and the Atlantic to tell U.S. officials that regional dialogue with the Lord's Resistance Army would work better than a military option against it.

"The issue is no longer the LRA and Uganda," said Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu. "The issue now is regional."

Archbishop Odama has headed the Gulu Archdiocese in northern Uganda since 1999 and, during that time, has worked to end hostilities between the Ugandan military and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, known for its brutality and especially for kidnapping children to use as soldiers and sex slaves. The LRA, once based in northern Uganda, has spread its operations to Southern Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic.

The archbishop is president of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an interfaith organization formed in the late 1990s to respond to the violence in northern Uganda, where the Acholi ethnic group is based. He traveled to Washington with one of the founding members of the organization, Anglican Bishop MacLeord Baker Ochola II, retired bishop of Kitgum.

Both men told Catholic News Service in mid-September that they do not oppose the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in May, but were urging U.S. officials to end the use of force in dealing with the LRA. The cited numerous occasions on which force did not work against the rebel group.

The bishops met with State Department officials, who have until November to develop a strategy for disarming the LRA. They also met with congressional leaders.

"We are afraid," Archbishop Odama told CNS. He said the LRA currently is involved in a conflict to destabilize Uganda's northern neighbor, Southern Sudan, which is scheduled to vote in January on whether to secede from Sudan.

Congo and the Central African Republic, two countries that border Southern Sudan, also have an interest in its stability, the archbishop said.

"Let us bring (their) leaders together -- the new stakeholders," he said. "We say: peaceful approach."

Bishop Ochola, whose daughter committed suicide in 1987 after being brutally attacked by the LRA, said those opposed to peace -- those who advocate continued fighting -- should also be invited to the dialogue.

He said the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative leaders have offered to mediate multiple times. In 2008, rebel leaders had begun negotiations when a Ugandan military offensive drove them into neighboring countries.

In early September, religious leaders from areas affected by the Lord's Resistance Army met in Southern Sudan to outline a path to peace. In a statement, the leaders said LRA atrocities gave "no sign whatsoever of being on the decrease."

The leaders said that in Southern Sudan, the LRA was attacking urban centers with "massive abductions, displacements and killings." They said they feared "enemies of peace" would use the LRA to prevent the secession referendum.

Since late 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,500 civilians in Southern Sudan. About 90,000 Sudanese in Western Equatoria province have been displaced from their homes, and 25,000 refugees from Congo and Central African Republic have sought refuge in the province.

Archbishop Odama and Bishop Ochola said capturing or killing LRA leader Joseph Kony would not necessarily end the conflict, because the situation is so complex and includes splinter groups and tribal conflicts. They said adding to the complexity of the situation was that most LRA soldiers were kidnapped and are serving involuntarily.

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