The Uganda Civil War Continues: Part Two

25 Mar

Blog Post Three    Civil War in the North: Part Two

And then, like in any war, heroes appear in the least unexpected places. Beginning in late 1994 Betty Bigombe, a state minister for Northern Uganda was charged with negotiating a peace treaty with Joseph Kony. Bigombe was a college graduate and a member of the Acholi tribe who served as the State Minister for Northern Uganda in 1988 and lived in Gulu. She was assigned by the government to convince the Lord’s Resistance Army to surrender. It was unusual for a woman to serve in a position of power such as this so early in Museveni’s young government but she was a wise woman and more than equal to the task. She began the treacherous mission of personally communicating with Joseph Kony and his senior officers in 1993. Eventually she met with him in the bush but he remained uncommitted and in February of 1994 he abruptly cut off all communication with her then increased his number of raids in the surrounding area. Another ten years would go by until Kony would consider participating in formal peace negotiations again. Reports from Gulu at that time suggested that Kony had just received a large sum of money; from where no one was sure. Renewed with determination he now had the resources to supply his army with more bullets and better weapons and went on to strengthen his guerilla operations around northern Uganda.

 But beginning in 2000 Betty did something unprecedented that eventually helped change the course of the war- she advocated for tolerance and mercy where none had been given and was backed by the Acholi people who had received neither from the rebels. She along with the Acholi elders, tribal leaders in the area, and local officials designed an amnesty agreement. The agreement stated that any member of the Lord’s Liberation Army who would  agree to put down his weapons and return back to his tribal home would not be prosecuted for war crimes, imprisoned, or harmed in any way. He would receive unconditional amnesty and would be left alone. This agreement also applied to any wives, servants, or female camp followers. It was a flexible and very private arrangement. The Acholi just wanted their sons and daughters back. Men and boys began returning home at night and were eventually seen in the Displacement Camps in the company of their families the following morning or later in the war they were suddenly observed in the tribal fields tending to their families’ crops. Some of the men who had been in the highest positions of authority within Kony’s  army defected.  There was no formal data kept on how many or when these people arrived home but several tribal leaders have estimated that at the end of the war in northern Uganda around 3,000 LRA guerillas and camp followers had been enticed to leave Kony and his army for good.

 In 2003, President Museveni petitioned the International Criminal Court (ICC) located in the Hague, Netherlands to do something about Kony’s reign of terror. Many citizens of Uganda who had previously supported Museveni’s efforts  to end the war objected to this formal request but in the end, his petition did get the attention of the international press corps who wrote about it, then commented on his actions during nightly news broadcasts all over the world.

 It caused the United States of America to become involved in the Ugandan Civil War under the leadership of President Bush. On February 8, 2004 the US Congress enacted The Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act” (Public Law 108-283, 118 Stat. 912-915). It supported the peaceful resolution of the conflict in northern and eastern Uganda by providing resources to meet the relief and development needs to the Internal Displacement Camps and stop the abduction of children by the Lord’s Resistance Army  urge the leaders and members of the Lord’s Resistance Army and “all armed forces in Uganda to stop the use of child soldiers” ,seek the release and provide assistance to all individuals who have been abducted; work with The Ugandan Government to improve the professionalism of Ugandan military personnel currently stationed in northern and eastern Uganda, with an emphasis on respect for human rights and civilian protection and to make clear that the relationship between Sudan and the United States would not improve unless no credible evidence indicates that authorities of the Government of Sudan are providing support to the Lord’s Resistance Army.”

http://www.glin.gov/view.action?glinID=183387

There are two things of  interest in this public law: 1.) that the United States openly admitted that the LRA was not the only army or rebel group in the area that abducted children for use as child soldiers and 2.) that the United States was aware that the Ugandan military ( LRA) did not always support the civilian population in the north. Many residents of Gulu at that time gave personal accounts of beatings and maltreatment by government soldiers.  The Acholi elders believed that the army did not care about their suffering because they had openly supported the previous president of Uganda Tito Lutwa Okello. Okello was was an accepted member of the Acholi tribe who had been defended by the Acholi during Musseveni’s military coup..

Kony fought on. His raids intensified but it became obvious that his funds had seriously decreased.  By February 2004 he and his guerillas were credited with the horrendous Barlonyo Massacre. Barlonyo was a Displaced Persons Camp (DPC) located just outside of the town of Lira in northern Uganda. It was officially recorded by the government that 200 unarmed members of the Acholi tribe were shot on sight that day by the Lord’s Liberation Army but local accounts estimate that more like 300 people were killed, some in horrendous ways and that over 80 children were  abducted by Kony’s men as well.

On October 13, 2005 the International Criminal Court issued five arrest warrants and indictments against Joseph Kony and four his senior officers Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Raska Lukwiya and Dominic Ongwen ( already dead by then)  for “crimes against humanity and specific war crimes.”

Betty Bigombe was living in the United States by now and working at the World Bank but was so disturbed at how the violence and murders of her people had escalated that she returned to Uganda in hopes of reinitiating the peace process once again. From 2004 to 2005, she was the chief mediator in the second peace initiative. This time she depended on her knowledge of Kony’s tactics, his personal crusade, and his need to be heard to bring Ugandan government officials and the members of the LRA together using her own funds to prepare for the meetings. As before Kony spoke about his mission and the future of a new Uganda but after a series of meetings with members of the peace initiative he would not commit to a surrender and moved his army further back into the bush. The last meeting with Kony and his officers occurred on April 20, 2005, but he left without signing any documents and cut off all further communication with Bigombe.

The third peace initiative, the  “Juba Talkstook place between the years 2006 and 2008. It was named for Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan and was coordinated and mediated byRiek Machar Tely, vice president of Southern Sudan. Several times Kony, his officers, or his son participated in a series of meetings in order to negotiate a ceasefire and identify the terms of a final peace agreement in order to bring an end to the Ugandan Civil War.  It was during the first set of meetings in 2006 that Joseph Kony allowed himself to be interviewed by members of the International Press. He denied charges that he had committed any crimes and accused the leaders of the present government of Uganda for making him fight in order to protect the people of his Acholi Tribe. The talks began positively and even led to a short ceasefire in September of 2006 but after two years of sporadic meetings Kony yet again declined to agree to the terms of the surrender or sign off on the peace agreement. Kony refused to consider signing until he had proof that the International Crime Court had dropped the indictments and warrants against him. By June 2008, he stopped talking and claimed that the Southern Sudanese army had attacked an LRA camp although this report was never confirmed. This so-called assault prompted the LRA to raid a Southern Sudanese Army camp at Nabanga. Twenty-one people were killed by the LRA and the camp was burned to the ground. After this brutal attack the Southern Sudan government withdrew its support by refusing to continue to host or mediate any further meetings.

Between 2005 and 2007 the National Resistance Army (NRA) or as it is now called the Ugandan’s People’s Defense Force (UPDF) pushed the LRA farther and farther north. The last attack Kony made on a Ugandan village was in 2006. Kony eventually fled with his troops out of desperation into Southern Sudan then moved them back and forth between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the southern region of the Sudan. Both of these countries existed under very unstable conditions at that time: South Sudan was trying to break away from the more powerful Khartoum government in the north and a corrupt and overwhelmed DRC government was embroiled in a new and sporadic form of guerilla warfare designed by groups of well organized rebel forces and led by powerful Congolese warlords who were openly befriended by terrorist groups such as al- Queda and Al-Shabaab, Islamic terrorist organizations. Members of these two organizations were seen dining in the company of these same Congolese warlords in the finer restaurants around Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In April 2008, The BBC reported that the LRA was on the move and had abducted 1000 new recruits and that by all accounts there were only  600 guerillas from the original army left.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7420461.stm

In May 2008 the government of Uganda established their own War Crimes Court to try human rights violations committed during the twenty year civil war in the north. This high court was given the power to try and sentence all rebel leaders in the area including the LRA. This was seen by many Ugandans as a move to convince the ICC to drop the indictments against Kony and the LRA so the Juba Peace talks would continue on as planned but it was too late.

By 2009-2011 Kony had moved his dwindling forces into the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a lawless and extremely unstable area that has been compared to the American “Wild West” -only this time everyone is packing automatic weapons. The power of the gun continues to dictate the course of events in these dense tropicial forrests and “Might makes right!” This area is filled with Congolese warlords, terrorists, and rebel groups from Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda who enslave the local people and steal their supplies by force. The Congolese governmental troops are no better and have been known to kill and steal from the very people they have sworn to protect. One of my sources was born in the eastern Congo and still receives mail from her family in this area. They write to her each month and recount similar stories about how one or another rebel force has come down from the mountains and raided a new village. Sound familiar?

The warlords encamped there are well aware that the new DRC government is incapable of maintaining order or of enforcing the laws and take full advantage of this situation  Kony had been down on his luck, scraping out a living, and fighting to survive while in Uganda when a fortunate twist of fate occurred. Now that he had been forced to set up camp in eastern DRC he found that this region contained large deposits of valuable, raw minerals including gold that could be mined and sold on the world market for enormous sums of money- millions of dollars it seemed. Joseph Kony was in business again. He could plan raids in order to collect the supplies he needed, enslave young girls, and replenish his army with young boys just like he had done in Uganda and who was going to stop him? He designed a moving army this time composed of small units that could disperse and reunite quickly depending upon his needs. He realized that the use of high-tech communication devices gave his movements away so he reinstated the original communication methods used by his ancestors in the bush many years ago. Most recently he entered the Central Africa Republic and continues to move between three separate countries: Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5825990n                 60 Minutes – The Price Of Gold

In October 2011, President Obama honored a foreign policy commitment to Uganda by notifying the United States Congress that he was sending one hundred US special forces troops to help the Uganda People’s Defense Force ( UPDF) subdue and arrest Joseph Kony and his senior officers.

My next post will explain Kony’s current locations, mission, and the problems encountered by the UPDF in their attempts to capture and arrest him and his senior officers. 

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI,  US

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