Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Defiance from the LRA?

It is increasing difficult to understand why credible news organizations and international news agencies continue to quote the nonsense being spewed by David Matsanga.

For those who don't know this man, he is the so-called spokesman for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has gone on a bloody rampage in the Democratic Republic of Congo since Christmas and killed 400 innocent people.

Senseless killing is standard operating procedure for the LRA. This time it's in response to the Dec. 14 attack on the LRA camps by the Ugandan, Congolese and South Sudanese armies.

Any true military force would combat another military force that attacked it. But not the LRA. This cult of killers responds by killing defenseless villagers, then thumps its chest about how "invicible" it is.

And, there is Matsanga, taking calls from news hacks and claiming that it is not the LRA, but the Uganda army that is killing the civilians. And, pathetically, the news organizations publish that.

The most recent nonsense sent around the world came from the Voice of America. Matsanga told VOA the killings were carried out by a special battalion of the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) called Battalion 105 that is composed of former LRA combatants who have defected.

It's an interesting idea, but like everything Matsanga says, impossible to take seriously.

The many former LRA fighters I have interviewed -- something Matsanga has not done -- would welcome the opportunity to put a bullet into the head of each and every LRA commander for what these abducted children were forced to do by the LRA. This included killing their own parents, or mutilating their friends and relatives.

Matsanga goes on to say that he has talked with the LRA leader Joseph Kony (who the VOA dutifully calls "general") and he has informed Matsanga that the LRA was not responsible for the alleged killings.

Why would anyone believe Kony? And, where is he?

Now, this is the same Matsanga who earlier this year told the world he spoke for the LRA and convinced the international community to trek to the jungles where they were to witness Kony signing a peace agreement with Uganda.

Of course, Kony didn't. Once confronted, Matsanga confessed that he had never really talked with Kony, who probably didn't even know he was supposed to show up and sign a document he knew nothing about.

But, this has not stopped people like Matsanga from continuing to claim he represents the LRA, while sitting in his house in Nairobi. And, it has not stopped the news hacks at VOA from giving this man a global forum for his unique brand of nonsense.

It is no wonder that fewer and fewer people take news organizations, especially newspapers, seriously anymore, and prefer to read blogs like this.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Situation worsens as LRA rampages

As feared, the situation in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has worsened now two weeks after the Dec. 14 air strike against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army camps in and around the Garamba National Park.

Aid agencies report that tens of thousands of people continue to flee the rampaging Ugandan rebels in the wake of more than 400 deaths, about half of which were in the town of Doruma, not far from the South Sudan border.

The Catholic relief agency Caritas has reported that some 20,000 people had fled to the mountains from the rebels, whose controversial spokesmen continue to deny carrying out the attacks.

Yet, an eyewitness told the BBC that five people in Faradje had their lips cut off by Lord's Resistance Army fighters as a warning not to speak ill of the rebels.

Bruno Mitewo, head of the Catholic aid agency, said the agency has information that from parishes in the region that more than 400 civilians have died in the attacks.

He said that in Faradje 150 civilians had died, almost 75 people in Duru and 215 in Doruma. The victims had been hacked to death and forced into fires, he said.

"All villages were burned by rebels... we don't know where exactly the population is because all the villages are empty," he told the BBC.

"We have almost 6,500 displaced who are refugees in the parishes of the Catholic Church around the city of Dungu, more than 20,000 people displaced are running to the mountains," he said.

Those who were hiding in the bush and forest were mainly the young, as the LRA tends to kidnap children and recruit them as fighters, he said.

An eyewitness in Faradje said the people who had their lips cut off were being treated for their injuries.

“The entire population of Faradje [80km from the Sudanese border], some 30,000 people, has left. Most have taken refuge in Tadu and Kpodo,” said Ivo Brandau, head of information for the UN's OCHA. The villages are 37km and 11km from Faradje.

As has been widely reported, forces from the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan are in the midst of a joint military operation against the LRA after the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, failed to sign a peace agreement with Uganda in early December.

OCHA officials said people from Kiliwa and Paika, two villages north of the regional capital of Dungu, had also fled.

“It’s not yet known exactly how many. Another group of around 180 households is said to be in Duru (about 50 kms north of Dungu). This area is considered to be at risk because of the presence of the LRA,” said Brandau. “Villages and local officials are still looking for bodies.”

Several prominent Faradje citizens were killed in the attacks, including a senior doctor, two pastors, a school inspector, a pharmacist, and the deputy head of the Directorate General of Migration.

According to OCHA, the LRA occupies seven villages around Doruma: Batande, Manzagala, Mabando, Bagbugu, Nakatilikpa, Nagengwa and Natulugbu.

Military officials said that following the air strike on LRA positions in Garamba National Park, the rebels fled north towards Sudan and south into the DRC.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Deja-vu northern Uganda


As many feared and some predicted, the Dec. 14 attack on the camps of the Lord's Resistance Army in northeastern DRC has provoked a bloody response.

So far, according to UN sources, at least 200 people have been killed by the scattered forces of the LRA, led by their self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony. At least 120 homes have been burned.

One of the most gruesome of these latest attacks was in a church near the town of Doruma (pictured above) close to the border with South Sudan. There LRA rebels hacked to death 45 people who were hiding in a church.

This attack on innocent civilians rivals some of the gore that the LRA indulged in across northern Uganda for two decades.

I visited Doruma this past June to interview people there about an earlier attack by Kony's killers on Easter weekend of this year.

Maybe this is how Joseph Kony likes to spend religious holidays: killing hundreds of innocent people.

The attack against Kony was of course long overdue. He has been killing and abducting people in this remote area of the DRC for more than two years now.

And, he has been lavishly aided and abetted by the soft-minded members of European Union who remain convinced Kony will sign a peace agreement and give up, no matter how many people he kills.

Whatever.

The latest bloody rampage, however, can be blamed on the Ugandan government which can be accused of botching this attack on Kony.

Instead of surrounding the camp before they bombed it, thus enabling the LRA and its leadership to be killed and/or captured as they fled, Uganda bombed first and sent troops two days later.

This allowed Kony and his army to disperse, taking what they needed, including their supposedly dead and wounded, assuming there were any.

Why has it taken so long for Uganda to produce proof of any casualties?

The problem now is that Uganda and the DRC are facing an extended guerrilla war in northern DRC, much like it suffered in northern Uganda.

Already, Kony's units have scattered, and despite the claims of "victory" by the Ugandan government, Kony was able to conduct coordinated attacks on and after Christmas day.

In short, it's deja-vu northern Uganda. The coming year promises to be a bleak one for the people of northern DRC.

And sadly, neither Kony nor his top commanders are any closer to being captured and put on trial before the International Criminal Court which has sought them since October 2005.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Kony Runs Rings Around Negotiators

Someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

It’s an accurate description of the continuing situation with Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, currently holed up in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

As he has in the past, Kony continues to play humiliating games with negotiators seeking a final end to northern Uganda’s brutal 20-year war with the LRA.

He, or his so-called spokesman David Matsanga, repeatedly announce that Kony plans to sign a permanent peace agreement, and even go so far as to set dates. Negotiators scramble to an agreed rendezvous point in the jungle – but Kony never shows.

This is followed by public grumblings from the negotiators, who vow never again to be fooled. But that “never again” lasts only a few weeks. Kony then calls someone like United Nations Special Envoy Joachim Chissano or talks mediator Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan, or dials up Mega FM in Gulu or Radio France International, and rambles on about how much he wants peace.

This inevitably draws yet another delegation to the jungles and which again is left sitting alone and waiting. Kony undoubtedly enjoys this because of the ease with which he can get away with it.

He clearly does not want peace.The was made abundantly clear – again – over the past week, when the LRA reportedly conducted more attacks on civilian populations both in South Sudan and on unarmed civilians in northeastern DRC.

One South Sudanese soldier was killed, according to reports, and others injured in an attack on Sakure, a village in Western Equatoria Province of South Sudan, which officials say was the work of the LRA.

South Sudan’s army reportedly chased the rebels back across the border into DRC, but the LRA didn’t quit there. Instead, it looted and burned houses, schools, churches and health centers, mostly in DRC.

Meanwhile, several hundred kilometres to the southwest of these attacks, some 50 students were kidnapped by LRA rebels in Duru. It’s a village about 75 km north of Dungu, in DRC.The reason for this convulsion of violence by the LRA is unknown, but it is not unexpected.

As reported by IWPR, the LRA went on a rampage in early spring, trekking to Obo in the Central African Republic and then back again with hundreds of abductees carrying as much loot as they could.

This kind of violence by the LRA has continued at various levels ever since the peace talks with the LRA began two years ago in Juba, South Sudan.This latest round of attacks came simultaneously with a September 18 statement out of Juba calling for yet another round of meetings with Kony and his Acholi tribal leaders. The statement was signed by Acholi chief David Acana, Machar, and Matsanga.

What kind of military response, if any, these latest attacks may generate, is unclear. Some have suggested that the LRA has stepped up the attacks because of increased presence in Dungu of the Congolese army.

The LRA apparently wants to test the resolve of the local forces to see who really intends to control the region.When I was in Dungu in June, the UN had just completed a large airstrip about eight km from the town, and was expecting the arrival of up to 1,000 Congolese soldiers.

They’ve started to arrive, but it remains to be seen what they’ll do.The people of Dungu, who reportedly have already begun to leave following these latest attacks by the LRA, view the arrival of Congolese soldiers with fear since they have a reputation of being as bad or worse as the militias they’re supposed to be fighting.

What’s lacking in this on-going circus is the collective will on the immediate states involved –DRC, South Sudan, and Uganda – or the international community to bring an end to it all.

To read the complete post go to: http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=346795&apc_state=henpacr

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Another setback for ICC prosecutor

The Hague, Netherlands -- The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, again has been handed a setback in his efforts to bring former eastern Congo militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to trial.

In the latest move, the ICC's judges last Thursday rejected the prosecutor's request that the Lubanga trial, which they summarily suspended in June, be allowed to continue.

Instead, the judges outlined the conditions under which they would allow the trial proceed.

Their primary requirement is to be allowed full access to documents and evidence that Moreno-Ocampo obtained from United Nations and other sources under the condition that the information be kept confidential.

The court suspended the Lubanga case after the judges concluded that Lubanga could not receive a fair trial because not only the judges, but Lubanga's defense, was prevented from accessing that evidence.

That evidence reportedly could benefit Lubanga.

Moreno-Ocampo has argued that he is allowed to collect confidential information under the Rome Statute which created the court.

The ICC judges agreed, but said that information can only be obtained anonymously if it is used to obtain other information and evidence that can be shared.

The judges, however, said they might lift their suspension of the Lubanga trial if, and only if, they "can adequately review - on a continuing basis for the entirety of the trial– the documents in question...."

In other words, they want full access. Once that happens, then the judges will decide what, if any, evidence can be handed over to the defense in order to insure a fair trial for Lubanga.

The primary charges against Lubanga are for recruiting and using child soldiers for his ethnic Hema militia in eastern DRC.

The judges indicated that discussions are continuing between the court, the prosecutor, and the UN and others who provided the documents, suggesting that a breakthrough in this deadlock may be possible.

The judges decision is far from complete, however, and does little to solve the standoff between themselves and the court's chief prosecutor.

And, it does little to change the condition of Lubanga, who remains in ICC custody.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hema Feel Vindicated by Lubanga Trial Crisis

Inside a Bunia neighborhood mud hut where one can buy a bowl of mandro, a murky homemade beer, customers say the International Criminal Court, ICC, was wrong to prosecute Thomas Lubanga.

Many in the hut in Mudzi-pela – on the side of Bunia that is almost wholly occupied by the Hema ethnic group to which Lubanga belongs – believe the delays and problems with the trial are a sign that the case was weak from the outset.

“[This] shows that the ICC cannot take control of the case. We can’t understand why they have postponed it so many times,” said one patron, who, along with others here, see Lubanga as a hero not a villain.

The trial was supposed to start on June 23, but judges have postponed it after concluding that the prosecution had withheld a “significant” body of evidence from the defence.

They consider the breach so serious that they will meet on June 24 to decide whether Lubanga should be released and dismiss the case against him.Lubanga, who is being held in The Hague, has been charged with recruiting children under the age of 15 to become fighters for his militia, the military wing of his political party, the Union of Patriotic Congolese, UPC.

Vicious clashes between the Lendu and Hema in the Ituri region of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, grew out of a civil conflict that broke out in the region more than ten years ago.

The decade of war, which has resulted in the deaths of more than five million people, according to recent reports, saw the toppling of the two regimes and the spawning of many ethnic-based rival militia groups in the eastern Congo.

The Ituri region has been the focus of ICC investigations since 2003, and has resulted in the arrest of four Congolese, including Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Matthieu Ngudjolo, and Jean Pierre Bemba, a senator and former presidential candidate.

Militia leader Bosco Ntaganda has also been indicted, but he is still at large in eastern Congo.Lubanga’s trial – which was the first to be prosecuted by the ICC – was originally scheduled to begin on March 31.

Various reasons have been given for the delays, including the failure of prosecutors to disclose to the defence all its evidence and the identities of witnesses testifying against the accused. To people in Mudzi-pela, Lubanga is a saviour who defended them during the decade-long civil war.

“Thomas came to our rescue,” said one woman. “We were running for our lives with babies in our arms. He came to help.”

She pointed to the dirt road outside the hut where she said five people had been killed.“People were trying to kill us. They were Lendu,” said another woman.

“Thomas [Lubanga] helped us so much.” The repeated stays in the Lubanga proceedings have drawn accusations in the region that a case should never have been brought against him.

“The [ICC is] telling lies,” said one man, adding that many Hema orphans had little option but to become fighters.

“Imagine the [Lendu] come and kill your family. It’s better to be a child soldier. Children were given a way of protecting themselves.”

To read the complete article:
http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=345236&apc_state=heniacr200806

Sunday, June 29, 2008

New War Looms in DR Congo

Just returned from two weeks in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The place still has a ways to go before it's listed on the Conde Nast Traveler's top destinations. Unless you're an unemployed war lord, gold smuggler or diamond merchant.

Joseph Kony falls into the first category, but he could get busy soon, and may be distracted from his solar powered video projectors.

Doruma, Democratic Republic of Congo -- On the morning of Good Friday, March 21, third-grade schoolteacher Raymond Rpiolebeyo rode his bicycle down the dirt track leading to his home village of Gurba, expecting to spend the Easter weekend with his family and friends.

But his trip was cut short when a group of heavily-armed rebels emerged from the jungle, ordered him off his bicycle and took him captive.

The fighters were members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, the Ugandan rebel group that for the past two-and-a-half years has occupied remote areas in and around the Garamba National Park in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.

After two years of relative quiet, and as peace talks with Uganda continued in Juba, South Sudan, the LRA went on the rampage in the remote region where the park is located, with a campaign of looting, abduction and killing.

In a major extended raid, rebel forces left the Garamba park at the beginning of February and crossed first into South Sudan and then into the neighbouring Central African Republic, where the rebels kidnapped more than 100 people and pillaged the town of Obo before returning to their base camp in DRC.

Along the way, the group used captured civilians to act as porters for looted goods. Some of the captives were then pressed into service, forced to undergo military training to boost the ranks of a group that has survived over many years by abducting and forcibly conscripting civilians including children.

Recent reports suggest the situation is about to intensify. United Nations sources say units of the DRC army could begin arriving by the end of June in Dungu, the area’s main town, located less than 100 kilometres from the Garamba park. Their mission would be to keep the LRA forces in check, if not drive them out of the park altogether.

Such a move could, however, herald a protracted war against the LRA, which currently numbers about 700 seasoned guerrilla fighters with a cult-like devotion to their leader Joseph Kony, making them one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most feared militias.

For the complete text: http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=345360&apc_state=henh

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Three strikes and you're out

Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, has once again snubbed negotiators who traveled to Ri-Kwangba, a remote location in the steaming jungles along the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Only this time it was not the nearly 200 people who last month went there to witness the signing of a peace settlement that will permanently end the 21-year war that Kony led in northern Uganda.

This time it was Kony's own people, the leaders of his Acholi ethnic group, who went there at his bidding supposedly to explain details of what would happen to him, should he sign the deal.

Uganda has proposed a special court to try him in lieu of the International Criminal court in The Hague. But Kony would much prefer the forgive-and-forget mato oput ceremonies that the Acholi have historically used to settle family and clan disputes such as stealing a cow.

The traditional ceremonies have never been used for such things as massacres of entire villages and the kinds of atrocities committed by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.

But that didn't stop Kony from issuing new demands for his signature on the peace deal, such as a shiny new mansion in Kampala, security and piles of money.

If anything, these latest demands only confirm that Kony has lost touch with reality outside of the brutal and bloody existence he has created for himself and his cultish militia for the past 20 years. Could he really expect to be rewarded lavishly for causing the death of some 100,000 in his homeland and the displacement of nearly 2 million of his fellow Acholis?

Back in Uganda, the Acholi leaders said they were finished with Kony, that never again would they go to visit with the man.

This latest move has left the international community with few choices. Someone has to capture Kony and take out his militia, but the question is who?

The government of the DR Congo can't control the dozens of militias that proliferate in eastern Congo, and it's unlikely it will allow Uganda to re-enter the country, which Uganda did in the mid-1990s when it backed the former army of Laurent Kabila that toppled Mobuto's regime.

The logical choice to go after Kony would be the UN's massive force there now, which is some 17,000 peacekeepers.

Something like this was tried in January 2006 by Guatemalan special forces and it resulted in a four-hour gun battle in which eight of the blue helmets died, as did 50 to 60 of the LRA.

And, if the UN took the initiative to go after Kony, who's wanted by the ICC, it would only complicate matters in Darfur, Sudan, where the Sudanese government already suspects that the UN forces assigned to Darfur want to capture the two Sudanese wanted by the ICC.

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wake Up Call for Sudan

It was a gem of a plan.

Make that “JEM” – short for the Justice and Equality Movement, the leading rebel group in Darfur that launched this past weekend’s attack on Omdurman and the Sudan capital of Khartoum.

As a result, the dynamics in Darfur and Sudan have changed. That the rebels could advance some 600 kilometres, from west to east across Sudan's open desert, without so much as word reported in or outside of Sudan, then attack the nation’s capital, speaks volumes.

The Sudan government responded by saying the rebels were beaten back, were on the run, and that the remnants were being hunted down.

Abdullahi Osman El-Tom, the head of strategic planning for JEM, had a different view, and told me that the rebels had withdrawn.

El-Tom called the attack a success and said it put the Sudan government on notice. “It has told the government that we have the capability of striking in the heart of the country, not just fighting in the deserts of Darfur,” he said. "Otherwise they will continue bombing in Darfur.”

Given Sudan’s substantial military, said to number some 100,000 soldiers, an air force of aging Russian-made bombers used extensively against civilian targets in Darfur, and a mercenary force of janjaweed fighters, what went wrong?

Reports of the fighting have been sketchy. Some say that at least 60 rebels were killed and the official Sudan news agency claimed 300 rebels had been arrested with 60-70 vehicles seized or destroyed.

State television in Sudan broadcast images of corpses, blood and burned vehicles in the streets, as well as captured rebels, two of whom appeared to have been badly beaten.

Sudan has accused Chad of backing the rebels and has severed diplomatic ties with its neighbour. Chad has denied involvement in the attack.

El-Tom denied that the rebels had support from Chad. “The Chadians can hardly protect themselves,” he said. He explained that the equipment used in the rebel attack had all been captured by rebels from the Sudan army.

“We’ve taken the equipment from Sudan,” he said. “There’s no shortage of arms, no shortage of vehicles. You take them from Sudan.”

El-Tom said the rebels have extensive support in the general population and the armed forces. During clashes with the Sudan army, the soldiers “drop their arms and [abandon] cars and run in the opposite direction.”

That the JEM were “defeated” by Sudan is not as significant as that a major weakness of the Sudan government, which has operated behind a fa├žade of total control, has been exposed.

For the complete article, go to:
http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=344592&apc_state=henh

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What next with Kony?

Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, was slated to meet peace negotiators this weekend in Ri-Kwangba, a remote location in the steaming jungles along the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The objective, for those who are following this bizarre and horrific saga, of course, is to resuscitate the dying hopes for a peace settlement that will permanently end the 21-year war that Kony led in northern Uganda.

Kony was supposed to sign the peace deal at this same jungle spot on April 10 in front of some 200 people who had traveled there to witness it, applaud, hug and pat each other on the back.

Only Kony didn't show.

As it turns out, he probably didn't even know about it because he hadn't been talking to his own peace team, who instead had been faking it as as they collected hundreds of dollars a day in per diem donated by the naive largess of the international community.

The former leader of the rebel peace team, David Matsanga, a former apologist for Africa's favorite dictator, Robert Mugabe, quickly grabbed the first plane out of Juba with some $20,000 in his pockets and is in Zambia. Adios.

While most of the rest of the world has given up on Kony, chief mediator, Dr Riek Machar, VP of South Sudan, has not.

This Saturday he and Dr. James Obita, the LRA's third chief negotiator, were to brief Kony "issues" he wants "clarified," which is how Uganda plans to handle Kony's trial -- if it could be called that.

In fact, what Kony wants to know is how Uganda plans to protect him from arrest and a trial in front of the International Criminal Court here in The Hague on more than 30 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

For the uninitiated, Kony's so-called war in northern Uganda has killed some 100,000 people, mostly due to war-related causes, and has displaced about 2 million people, most of whom still refuse to believe the war is over and go back home. Kony managed all of this by abducting tens of thousands of people, mostly young boys and girls, and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves.

But peace deal or not, it seem unlikely that the ICC will let Kony off the hook by agreeing to a local trial in Uganda. First of all, such a court hasn't been created and Uganda has no laws against crimes against humanity.

This glaring omission of reality hasn't stopped a lot of talk about it, however.

Ironically, among those to meet with Kony are Justice James Ogoola, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Uganda, and some traditional and local leaders from the insurgency-hit regions, civil society groups and donors.

Now Ogoola is a smart, no-nonsense kind of guy. I saw him in action a couple of years ago when he ran an investigation into the theft of $200 million given to Uganda that was supposed to go treatment and preventions of AIDS.

Most of the money went to the buying of expensive cars, to non-existent non-profit groups, or just disappeared. Official corruption is endemic.

Which raises the obvious question. How can any legitimate trial in Uganda even be considered?

I've met Obita and he's a smart and honorable man, and why he's involved is a mystery. And why would Ogoola want to get involved in this mess?

Yet, hope for resolution continues.

As Obita said last week: “It is from the meeting with Dr Machar that Kony will propose the date he plans to sign the peace deal.”

He's got to be kidding. Kony has turned the peace talks into his new business while he rebuilds his army in the DRC. Get a grip.

This ordeal will only end with Kony's capture.

Charles Taylor, cool customer

10 May, 2008 -- The Hague:

Sat in on the trial this week of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now facing prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

He was quite cool, if not bored, as a woman told horrific accounts of her ordeal after she was taken by one of Taylor's soldiers and used as a sex slave and cook.

The trial continues this summer. Stay tuned.