By Richard Ruati
September 11, 2010 (YAMBIO) – The Regional Conference of Religious Leaders
on the Impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) called on the regional governments of the four countries – Uganda, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) – and the international community to seek peaceful settlements to end more than two decades of death, rape and destruction at the hands of Joseph Kony and his cruel fighters.
The LRA is a sectarian religious and military group from Uganda, led by Kony and others wanted by the International Criminal Court for the atrocities they have committed in the region.
“The religious leaders are convinced that the preferred sustainable solution is a negotiated settlement of the LRA crisis,” said the regional spiritual leaders in a communiqué released on Friday.
The Religious leaders met in Yambio, under the initiative of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio in collaboration with the Inter Church Committee.
Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tambura-Yambio Diocese chaired the conference; his flocks has been bearing the brunt of LRA aggressions, with at least seven parishes under Tambura-Yambio Diocese badly hit.
The Religious leaders appeal for peace came as LRA attacks are on the rise in southern Sudan. Around six LRA fighters attacked the villages of Rii-Bodo and Nahua on 4 August, and killed eight civilians. The weekend raids also resulted in the abduction of two women and two men.
LRA aggression towards civilians in DRC, CAR and southern Sudan has created untold suffering and displacement.
The conference observed that the protection of communities is a big concern in all LRA affected areas. The conference was unanimous in its concerns for the need to protect its communities.
Although the context differed, the community defense mechanisms discussed were applicable in all the countries assembled.
Despite the efforts of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) to provide security to the communities in Western Equatorial State (WES), the main local community coping mechanism is the Arrow boys – community protection whose actions and efforts in providing security to the community are not encouraged by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
Arrow Boys are community fighters equipped with traditional weapons who were first seen in WES in 2009.
The role of United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) appears to be limited to investigating incidents and casualties. Although this work is valuable, its contribution to the security of the community remains limited.
Although the presence of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) in WES is generally appreciated by the population, communities are concerned about the solitary approach of the UPDF, their prolonged presence and absence of clear a mandate.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
In the DRC the self defense units, initially very active and effective, have been forbidden by the government. Considering the insufficient capacity of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), to assure the protection of the communities their security situation has deteriorated.
FARDC limit their presence to the centers of agglomerations and not the peripheries. At the main roads many checkpoints are set with the sole purpose of extracting bribes.
Officially the presence of the UPDF combat troops has ended, with only intelligence officers remaining, but the presence of troops is regularly observed and their mandate is not known.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Although the CAR delegation was not present, the conference was aware of increased activity of the LRA in their country. The UPDF has extended its operations into CAR but there has been little collaboration between the UPDF and the local population. Also, the scope of UPDF activities in CAR is not known.
The religious leaders recommended that, “in all four countries our national militaries in LRA affected areas must take responsibility for protecting their civilian communities in the region from LRA attacks. Their capacity in rapid responses and deployment should be strengthened.”
“Also UN [United Nations] presence, such as UNMIS and MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] should be given greater capacity to deploy quickly in response to LRA attacks and sightings. In addition, their mandates and rules of engagements should be better communicated to local communities.”
In order to find a solution the religious leaders consider it “vital and urgent to increase awareness on the LRA problem at all levels as [we] observe insufficient interest of national governments and the international community,” said the religious leaders.