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.

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