Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Devil's Resistance Army

Stories are beginning to filter out, coming from people who have been freed or have escaped the clutches of the Lord's Resistance Army's in northeastern Democractic Republic of the Congo.

One of the most compelling has been reported by journalist Modest Kizito Oketa, reporting from Yambio, South Sudan, for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

He was able to talk with five South Sudanese who had been abducted by the LRA during the past two years, who were now on their way home, thanks to the Ugandan army.

Ironically, these abductees had been taken into their captivity at a time when the LRA was negotiating a so-called peace deal with Uganda as it continued to insist that it was not adbucting people -- a blatant lie swallowed only by the weak-kneed international community.

As reported by IWPR, the abductees, including three young women, two of whom gave birth in the bush, fled the LRA during recent battles between the rebels and the Ugandan army.

The clashes followed the mid-December joint Ugandan, South Sudanese and Congolese offensive against LRA bases in the Garamba National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, codenamed operation Lightning Thunder.

Ugandan soldiers brought the abductees to their base in Dungu, the regional capital of northeastern DRC, from where they were airlifted to Yambio, Western Equatoria, in late February.

Together with their allies, the Ugandans have been pursuing the LRA fighters since their surprise attack on rebel camps in Garamba on December 14, as we have extensively reported.

The attack failed to defeat the rebels, however, allowing them to rampage across the region for the past two months, leaving an estimated 900 Congolese and South Sudanese civilians dead.

The escapees talked of their time of horror during which they had developed a healthy distaste for LRA leader Joseph Kony, who as many now know, learned of the attack ahead of time.

“[He] told his men a day earlier there were plans to bomb the camp and ordered all his commanders and other soldiers to leave immediately,” said John Isaac, a 20-year-old former resident of the South Sudan town of Ezo, who had been abducted in March 2008.

"The first day of the attack, we were in the camp,” he said to IWPR, explaining that many non-combatants remained even though Kony and his fighters had left.

“It seems he talks with his devil gods,” Isaac said. “We prefer him to be called the leader of [the] Devil’s Resistance Army." The escapees spoke of their wretched life in the rebel camps," he told IWPR.

"All the period we have spent in the hands of the notorious LRA, we were beaten, forced to do hard labour and to kill one another," said Isaac.

Isaac and some others escaped during the chaos of a rebel encounter with Ugandan forces. He said that the LRA fighters scattered as fighting broke out, enabling him and five Congolese children to run to safety.“I thought I would not survive,” said Isaac.

“Everyone was screaming and the children were crying. We were all praying to Almighty God to protect us.”

They came across some local people, he said, who took them to Ugandan army units based nearby, "We felt joyful when we escaped into the hands of Congolese civilians."

Once the escapees reached the Ugandan army soldiers, they said they knew they were safe. "The soldiers took us to Dungu the following day," said Isaac.

It's an amazing story, but now what? Kony is still out there, as are his top two commanders who just a few weeks ago said they wanted to surrender. Really?

And, now, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has an agreement from DRC Presdient Joseph Kabila to contine the operation, but for exactly how long, is unknown.

With Kony reportedly headed for, or already in the Central African Republic, it could go on forever, just as the war in northern Uganda did.

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