by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Dec 2, 2011
Increased efforts by regional nations and US troops to end a two-decades long campaign of carnage by Ugandan-led Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels face tough challenges ahead, analysts warn.
US President Barack Obama in October sent 100 special forces soldiers to help Uganda track down LRA chief and international fugitive Joseph Kony, while the African Union has vowed to beef up efforts to end the brutal insurgency.
But experts say military intervention alone is not enough, and efforts will likely fail unless promises of improved regional cooperation are followed through.
"While there is at last a chance to defeat the LRA, both robust military action and vigorous diplomacy is required," the International Crisis Group thinktank said in a recent report.
"Above all, the AU must act promptly to live up to its responsibilities as guarantor of continental security," it added, noting Uganda should take advantage of "perhaps brief US engagement" to increase its military offensive.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since Kony took up arms in the late 1980s -- initially against the Ugandan government. He is notorious for using children as fighters and sex slaves.
Driven out of Uganda, the guerrillas have since scattered across a vast region of the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, recruiting fighters from those nations over the years.
The rebels currently number several hundred, a fraction of their strength at their peak but still include a core of hardened fighters.
Like other regional armies, Uganda's military has welcomed US support, but still notes the difficulties ahead.
"Sending 100 troops cannot be the entire solution," said Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye, adding even hi-tech aerial surveillance would struggle to track the jungle guerrillas hidden beneath thick tree cover.
Ugandan forces are focusing on CAR -- where Kony is thought to be hiding -- claiming the LRA's promotion of non-Ugandans to commander ranks was proof the rebels are at their "lowest ebb."
A group of US troops have already made "pre-deployment" visits to frontline affected areas, said Daniel Travis, spokesman for the US Embassy in Uganda.
"We are still in consultations with Uganda and the other affected countries as to where would be best to deploy," Travis told AFP. "This is an African-led effort and we are here to assist only."
The AU has vowed to coordinate that effort with regional nations, but collaboration between armies has been a sticking point in the past.
An 11-nation UN committee on security in central Africa is due to meet in Bangui next week to discuss how to defeat the rebels.
But hunting down the guerrillas will "not be easy," said Richard Downie, from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"US policymakers and military planners emphasize that there is no quick fix," he wrote in a recent report.
"Even the death or capture of Kony and his senior commanders may not be sufficient to finish off the group, unless broader efforts are made to address the grievances that caused it to form in the first place," he added.
The LRA emerged from the frustrations of Uganda's marginalised Acholi ethnic group against the government, but its leaders have since dropped their national political agenda for the narrow objective of pillage and plunder.
Since peace talks broke down in 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,400 people, abducted over 3,400 and forced some 380,000 people to flee their homes, according to United Nations and US State Department estimates.
Activists, such as John Prendergast of the Enough Project rights watchdog, hailed the arrival of US support as the kind of measure "required to finally bring an end to the devastation wrought by the LRA."
"With the right African troops on the ground, the proper transport support, and a sufficient intelligence surge, Africa's longest-running militia could be neutralized," Prendergast said.
Others, such as Paul Ronan of Resolve, a Washington-based advocacy group, say US support "can greatly boost regional attempts" but programmes that encourage LRA fighters to surrender must also be undertaken.
The renewed military intervention also has its critics. The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), an interfaith group from northern Uganda where the LRA originated, warns dialogue is the "only way" to achieve peace.
"While many have lost hope in any peaceful resolution to the conflict, the reality is that the peace process ... is responsible for the relative calm being experienced in northern Uganda today," the group said in a statement.
A Ugandan-led military attack on LRA bases in DRC in 2008 after the failure of those talks scattered rebels and sparked bloody reprisal raids.
"History has taught us military intervention is not the way to resolve the LRA conflict," ARLPI added. "In the past, such approaches have directly resulted in the intensification of LRA violence."
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Juba (AFP) Nov 30, 2011
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