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Protect civilians against LRA, UN tells peacekeepers

March 11, 2012 (JUBA) – A senior United Nations official has said civilian protection remains the major focus of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in its efforts against the Lord Resistance Army (LRA), a notorious Ugandan rebel group operating around the border area in the eastern part of the country.

Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations in an interview with the UN news center on Friday, also reiterated peacekeepers’ commitment towards ending the over two-decade conflict, using a “range of strategies”.

“Our Blue Helmets have been offering military escorts to merchants transporting their goods to markets as well as to churchgoers,” Ladsous said, adding that, “By patrolling in and around villages and towns where LRA presence was signalled, they have maintained a level of security and saved lives.”

A group that came into existence in the late 1980s, the LRA have built a reputation for forcefully recruiting children, raping, killing and abductions in Uganda and neighboring DRC, South Sudan and Central Africa Republic.

The LRA leader, Joseph Kony and other senior commanders are wanted by Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for various crimes.

Ladsous, however, said although current estimates suggest that the LRA comprises of less than 500 combatants, its capacity to attack, terrorize and harm local communities cannot be ignored.

The UN official further decried the rebels’ recent activities in parts of the DRC, especially new attacks on civilians, which reportedly occurred in the past few weeks in Dungu, Faradje, Watsa, Niangara, Bondo and Ango.

The peacekeeping mission, Ladsous maintained, has taken a robust military approach against the LRA and other armed groups in recent years, specifically citing its “blue helmets”, which reportedly work with the Congolese armed forces in leading military operations against the LRA and other armed groups.

The UN mission, he added, also facilitates the provision of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in areas affected by the LRA.

The peacekeeping chief also lauded the role of US military advisors recently deployed by the American government to support regional armies against the LRA, and said coordinated pressure by the national armies of CAR, DRC, South Sudan and Uganda is weakening the LRA.

In 2010, President Barack Obama released the first-ever White House strategy to address the LRA issue, and later deployed 100 combat troops to offer advise to governments in countries like Uganda and other regions affected by the insurgency.

“But the peacekeepers have also taken a softer approach to encourage combatants to give up their weapons and return to civilian life,” Ladsous told the UN news center.

“Radio programmes and leaflets target rebels to convince them give up arms and return to civilian life,” he added.

In a related development, B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the UN has made several attempts to bring the group into a peace deal, and used its peacekeeping forces to protect civilians from the LRA.

Pascoe noted that the UN continues to work through its political office in Central Africa to forge an effective regional response to end the LRA insurgency. However, success is still far from being achieved in reality.

“I think we need to redouble our efforts to see what we can do because these are really ferocious crimes,” he said, adding that he hoped that Kony would be captured and tried for his alleged crimes.

The UN’s top political official also expressed appreciation for the awareness-raising potential of a video about the LRA which has gained wide notoriety on the internet.

“One of our biggest problems with the LRA and dealing with the LRA has been getting the attention to it. So I think it is very good that this gets around, that people see what’s there,” he told reporters.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in a recent report, assessed the threat posed by the LRA and openly urged the UN, the African Union and governments in the region to step up military, political and humanitarian efforts towards bringing an end to their insurgency.

(ST)