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.