'Sudan Still Support the LRA'

They always knew that elements in Sudan's army were still fueling the war in northern Uganda, despite official denials. But they could never find conclusive proof. Now northern Uganda's peace brokers say they have it.

SOURCE: Mail & Guardian (South Africa),

By Tim Cocks | 06.24.2003

In a statement released this week, the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative (ARLPI) — a body that has been working to instigate peace talks between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels — said it has "systematically verified" reports that the Sudanese army is providing a "constant supply of arms, ammunition and other items" to the LRA.

If the claims are indeed verified they promise to sour even further the already deteriorating relations between Sudan and Uganda.

During his recent visit to the United States, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni lashed out at the government in Khartoum, accusing it of covertly assisting the rebels. Kampala says it is considering taking diplomatic action against Khartoum for backing the insurgency in violation of a peace pact signed between the two governments in Nairobi in 1999.

Throughout the 1990s the two governments were fighting a proxy war. Uganda was arming and training the dissident Sudan People's Liberation Army, fighting for autonomy for the Nilotic peoples of the south, while Sudan was supporting the LRA, providing bases, supplies and training.

In 1993 they severed diplomatic relations and in 1995 Uganda invaded southern Sudan and started brawling with the Sudanese army.

But, after the signing of the Nairobi peace pact, both countries officially renounced supporting each others' rebels.

Sudan vehemently denies the fresh accusations, pointing out that the Sudanese government has made efforts to help Uganda crush the insurgency.

Sudanese consul to Uganda Hasan Ngor told the Mail & Guardian: "This is a baseless accusation. It is mere propaganda by those with an interest in derailing the peace process between the two governments. When we took action to help Uganda fight the LRA, it was a clear commitment."

The ARLPI thinks differently. The conclusion of its report accusing the Sudanese army of secretly supplying the Ugandan rebels was based on interviews with "six different returnees from the LRA" who had come out under amnesty in the months between February and June this year. All had been with the LRA for at least seven to 10 years and had held positions from sergeant to major.

The ARLPI says the interviews were conducted separately in places cut off from anyone else and without the interviewees knowing that similar questions were being asked of their companions.

From these independent sources, the report concludes that, "members of the Sudanese armed forces have been delivering truckloads of military assistance to the LRA in Nsitu [southern Sudan] since October 2002".

"We always had our suspicions when we kept seeing the LRA with new uniforms and new guns, but we didn't have enough to be sure," Father Carlos Rodriguez Soto, a senior ARLPI negotiator, said. "Now with each independent report from the bush saying the same thing, we now know they are doing this."

Sudan says such eyewitness accounts are unreliable. Ngor said: "The eyewitness reports are not even consistent with themselves. They say that a fresh batch of weapons was delivered last month, then they give evidence from events that happened last year."

But, according to Ugandan military sources, the evidence of the Sudanese army's recent involvement with the rebels comes not just from the ARLPI.

Ugandan Army spokesperson Major Shaban Bantariza said: "What you have seen from these religious leaders, we are also getting such reports. We have many credible intelligence sources, including individuals we ourselves have recovered from the LRA."

The findings put the Ugandan government in an awkward diplomatic position.

Sudan's cooperation with its efforts in its southern border areas is key to Uganda's military strategy for ending the rebellion in the north.

If Sudan refuses to allow Uganda in, the LRA will effectively be able to re-establish a safe haven in southern Sudan.

Bantariza said that Uganda would be presenting the evidence to the Sudanese government and requesting an explanation from it.

Meanwhile, Sudan says that those making accusations are free to communicate them through the appropriate mechanisms set up when the two governments signed the Nairobi protocol.


Source: http://www.mg.co.za