Sunday, January 18, 2009

More time, more trouble

Ugandan officials are going to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital of Kinshasa this week to ask for more time to hunt rebels.

Uganda had approval from the DRC to chase the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army for a month that ended Jan. 14, 30 days after the military first attacked the LRA camps in the Garamba National Park on Dec. 14.

Even though the deadline passed, Uganda made no moves to withdraw its troops.

Neither has it produced evidence that a month of fighting has done anything to slow, stop, kill or capture the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony.

Instead, the death toll among the civilian population of northeastern DRC continues to mount, with the UN saying more than 600 have been killed, about 400 more abducted and more than 100,000 people displaced.

It is also somewhat gratifying to see that the Enough project, has finally joined me and a growing chorus who have condemned the Ugandan operation as a dismal failure, despite the government's claims to the contrary.

Uganda's request for an extension signals what I predicted shortly after the attack began. Uganda will only create the same disastrous situation that it did in northern Uganda when it conducted a "war" against Kony and the LRA.

As has been widely reported in the Ugandan news media and as I amply demonstrate in my new book on the LRA (First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army), the war in the north was poorly fought and undermanned.

This was due to the massive fraud perpetrated by the Ugandan army's high command which listed thousands of "ghost soldiers" on it's pay rolls as fighting in the north, when they didn't exist. The generals and commanders pocketed the money.

Meanwhile, the Acholi and Langi people of northern Uganda were herded into 200 refugee camps and bore the brunt of the LRA's endless attacks on these poorly guarded camps, which became the LRA's favorite soft targets.

Since the Ugandan army was unable to capture Kony or defeat the LRA after more than 20 years of war, why does it think it can do so in the DRC which is more difficult terraine and more remote?

It can't. Ultimately the Ugandan army will be forced to set up its own military camps and from them wage war against the LRA.

As a sign of things to come, Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told the French Press Agency, that, "It's going to take a little more thinking to figure out how civilians are going to be protected."

Fortunately, most of the regional population already has fled. Those who remain will be herded into defensible civilian camps, much like those in northern Uganda. Viola! We're right back to where we were in Uganda: an endless war with endless bloodshed.

Meanwhile, the situation swirling around this botched campaign is taking on ever more bizarre dimensions.

The LRA's self-proclaimed spokesman, David Nyekorach-Matsanga, told AFP that a ceasefire agreement was imminent.

This is as credible as Matsanga's previous claims.

"There is a ceasefire coming soon because the Ugandan army knows it has not achieved its objective. The LRA will never be defeated through fighting, only through dialogue," he told AFP.

Matsanga, who says he is in regular contact with the elusive Kony, said talks are ongoing between Kampala and former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, who serves as the UN special envoy to LRA-affected areas.

Ugandan officials don't beleive Matsanga because there is need. What is the point of a ceasefire? A peace agreement has already been negotited and now only needs to be signed, something Kony has refused to do three times.

A ceasefire will only give the LRA time to regroup. Uganda knows that.

"There will only be a ceasefire if Joseph Kony himself gives categorical assurances that he will sign the Final Peace Agreement," Uganda's deputy foreign minister, Okello Oryem, told AFP.

"The communication must come directly from Kony," Okello told AFP.

Ankunda, meanwhile, was quick to reject the claim that Matsanga and Kony recently spoke. "David Matsanga is not in touch with Kony. That is a fact," he said.

That certainly hasn't stopped Matsanga from getting all the press he wants.

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