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Uganda welcomes US troops to hunt rebel leaders
by Staff Writers
Kampala (AFP) Oct 15, 2011

Uganda and its neighbours hailed Saturday a US offer to send combat troops to help battle a brutal regional rebel force whose leaders are international war-crimes fugitives.

"We welcome this gesture -- it has been well overdue," said Uganda's acting foreign minister Henry Okello Oryem.

US President Barack Obama said Friday that 100 troops would help Uganda track down Lord's Resistance Army rebel chief Joseph Kony and other senior LRA leaders, but warned they would not lead the fighting themselves.

"For 20 years, the government of Uganda has been pleading with our American and European friends to help in the LRA problem, because these are international terrorists," Oryem said.

"We wanted our friends to help in providing technical support -- such as intelligence -- because they have the best."

Fighting between the rebels and Ugandan forces in a 20-year war claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and saw nearly two million displaced.

However, in recent years the LRA have shifted from northern Uganda to regional nations, causing havoc in a bloody campaign of rape, murder and mutilation.

The mostly special operations forces could deploy in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, subject to approval of regional governments, Obama said in a message to Congress.

Uganda's defence spokesman Felix Kulayigye said the first batch of US troops were already in Uganda.

"Some of the forces are already in the country," Kulayigye said. "Their approach is regional -- DR Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Uganda. How far they will go depends on the cooperation arrangements."

Washington has provided more than $40 million in logistical support, equipment and training to counter-LRA operations by armies in the region since 2008, according to State Department officials.

Kony, an International Criminal Court fugitive believed to be hiding in Central African Republic, is accused of extreme brutality, including seizing boys as child soldiers and girls as sex slaves and porters.

In 2009, Congress enacted a law expressing support for increased US efforts to mitigate and eliminate the threat posed to civilians by the LRA.

Neighbouring South Sudan said it also supported the US deployment.

"Any support to tackle the LRA is a good move," said army spokesman Philip Aguer, who said suspected LRA fighters had launched attacks against communities along the country's western border in recent weeks.

"South Sudan is already working with Uganda's army in operations against the LRA, and we will be pleased to work with anyone who can help us combat the threat," he added.

Large swathes of South Sudan's key breadbasket region of Western Equatoria have been left unfarmed for fear of attack by the jungle guerrillas, Aguer said.

"We have large communities whose lives are ruined by these rebels, so the sooner we can end this once and for all will be something we will look forward to."

Lambert Mende, DR Congo government spokesman, said the move was supported because what the LRA had done to the country "is beyond comprehension".

"In repeated meetings we have called for collaboration between the concerned governments... this action is in response to that call," he said.

Deputy defence minister Jean-Francis Bozize equally welcomed the US aid, saying the damage done to his country by the rebels is "truly tragic."

"The Central African Republic today more than needs external assistance like that of United States," he said.

"Many hundreds of our people have been killed, others kidnapped or displaced, their homes ransacked, destroyed, their possessions looted. It is unbearable," he added.

But supporters of the LRA claimed a military solution ignored the root causes of marginalization in northern Uganda, that they say provided the grievances for the rebellion in the first place.

"You can cut off the head of Kony and kill the commanders, but that won't help the people of northern Uganda, marginalized over so many years," said Justine Labeja, who represented the LRA in failed peace talks in 2006.

But Ugandans in the northern Gulu district, once one of the areas worst affected by the conflict, said hunting down LRA commanders would help them move on with their lives.

"This effort should have come years ago, but it is better late than never," said Bosco Odongpiny, a resident of Koch Goma in Gulu.

"Without capturing Kony and the remaining commanders, we in northern Uganda will always feel insecure."

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Kenya to pursue kidnappers into Somalia: minister
Nairobi (AFP) Oct 16, 2011 - Kenyan forces will pursue across the Somali border armed kidnappers responsible for a spate of abductions of foreigners, the internal security minister said Saturday.

Branding Somalia's Al-Qaeda inspired Al-Shebab rebels "the enemy", George Saitoti said Kenya intended to track down the kidnappers whose raids on two beach resorts have dealt a major blow to Kenya's tourism industry.

"Our territorial integrity is threatened with serious security threats of terrorism, we cannot allow this to happen at all," said Saitoti.

"It means we are now going to pursue the enemy, who are the Al-Shebab, to wherever they will be, even in their country," he told reporters.

In just over the past month, a British woman and a French woman have been abducted from beach resorts, while two Spanish aid workers were on Thursday seized from a refugee camp.

Police have blamed the abductions on the Islamist Shebab, but experts say the kidnappings could also be the work of pirates, bandits or opportunistic criminal gangs.

"If you are attacked by an enemy, you are allowed to pursue that enemy until where you get him," said Kenyan Defence Minister Yusuf Mohammed Haji, speaking alongside Saitoti. "We will force them far away from our border."

Security forces were still searching Saturday for the two Spaniards, both logistics officers with the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), who were abducted from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp and are believed to have been taken over the border.

"The militants are still being pursued," Saitoti said. "We have mobilised adequate security forces who are still pursuing them."

Large numbers of Kenyan security forces including helicopters were reported close to the Somali frontier on Saturday, an AFP reporter in the area said.

Kenyan military vehicles were seen driving through scrubland near the Liboi border post.

"Everything possible is being done to ensure those kidnapped are found," Haji added.

Kenya is still reeling from the kidnapping of the French and British women from coastal regions which has badly damaged its key tourism sector.

Aid agencies said they were halting all but life-saving relief efforts in Dadaab -- the world's largest refugee camp, and home to some 450,000 mainly Somali refugees fleeing drought, famine or war -- as they reviewed security.

Kenyan authorities have on several occasions expressed fears Islamist extremists would infiltrate the Dadaab camps from Somalia, as the border lies barely 100 kilometres (60 miles) away.

Kenya also said it had shut its border with Somalia, although enforcing that move across the porous frontier will be a near impossible move in reality.

"We have closed the border with Somalia and we have no apology to make," Saitoti said, adding that security officials would search all refugees entering and already in Kenya, claiming not all were "a bona fide refugee".

The Dadaab camp complex has seen a huge influx of people this year -- over 7,500 people have arrived in the crowded complex of rag, tin and plastic huts this month alone.

The exodus has been sparked by a severe drought that has affected more than 13 million people across the Horn of Africa, hitting Somalia especially hard.

"Why is it that this refugee issue is being seen as a Kenyan issue?" Saitoti added.

"We want the international community to stabilise Somalia so that these refugees can be taken back there," he said.

Somalia has had no effective government ever since it plunged into repeated rounds of civil wars beginning in 1991, allowing a flourishing of militia armies, extremist rebels and piracy.

The Shebab have reportedly denied involvement in the kidnappings, according to the World Health Organisation's representative for Somalia.


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Food crisis looming in Sudan: UN agency
Rome (AFP) Oct 5, 2011
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