BLOOD, OIL AND KILLER CHILDREN (Part 2)
Teaching Children to Kill
A Human Rights Watch report on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a murderous band of renegades in Central Africa was the subject of another CSIS gathering.
Despite claims by military officials in Uganda and Congo that the LRA is no longer a viable threat, Human Rights Watch says the Ugandan rebel group is plundering villages, killing inhabitants and kidnapping children in a remote area where Uganda, Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic meet. (see upper right corner of map below)
The LRA, which started out decades ago as a rebel group fighting the Ugandan government, was driven from that country in 2005. But it remains alive and well – ravaging villages in Congo, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic, according to Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. She and Paul Ronan of Resolve Uganda, another civil society organization, outlined the LRA’s depredations, including a four-day attack in the Makombo area of northeastern Congo that left 321 dead. Another 250 people were abducted including 80 children.
The report details a nightmarish scenario of brutality and senseless slaughter right out of the Vietnam War movie “Apocalypse Now,” (which was based on “Heart of Darkness,” a novel about colonial brutality in the Belgian Congo.)
Van Woudenberg, who traveled to the region in February and interviewed survivors, said only two victims were shot. The others were hacked to death with machetes or ha their skulls crushed with clubs and axes.
The LRA, headed by Joseph Kony, who is under indictrment by the International Criminal Court, only numbers about 200-400 hardcore fighters but sustains its ranks by kidnapping young people and turning them into porters and child soldiers. Van Woudenberg said children who have escaped the LRA’s clutches said they were forced to kill other children who disobeyed rules or could not keep up on the line of march. Older girls are forced to become “wives” to the LRA’s leaders.
In December 2008, Uganda, Congo and southern Sudan – with logistical and intelligence support from the U.S. military — launched an attack on the LRA. Despite planning assistance from U.S. Africa Command — which did not have any troops on the ground — the attack, called Operation Lightning Thunder, was poorly executed and the LRA split up, eluded the three armies and attacked locations hundreds of kilometers apart in Congo and Sudan. The national armed forces had not developed contingency plans to protect civilians in the area, the Human Rights Watch report said. About 200 UN peacekeepers in the area were not included in the planning for Lightning Thunder and were not positioned to protect communities at risk. In Congo alone, an estimated 865 people were killed and hundreds more were abducted by a vengeful LRA in the wake of the three-nation military attack.
Ugandan troops that crossed into Congo to pursue the LRA had to withdraw when the Congolese government found it “politically difficult” to allow foreign troops to remain on its soil, although about 2,000 were allowed to remain covertly in Congo with the tacit approval of the Congolese government. There are also an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 Congolese troops in the area frequented by the LRA and the U.N. has four separate peacekeeping missions in central Africa but they are all spread thin and there is still poor communication and coordination among the various militaries in and around northeastern Congo.
“The lack of telecommunication is a huge problem,” said Van Woudenberg, adding that the LRA is operating in “the most rural, remote and forgotten parts of three countries.”
Ronan, who toured devastated villages in the Central African Republic, noted legislation is pending in the U.S. Congress to support multilateral efforts to protect civilians and eliminate the LRA threat. The measure would authorize funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction, as well as reconciliation, and transitional justice.
Human Rights Watch called on the international community to develop a comprehensive strategy, in conjunction with the region’s governments, to protect civilians and apprehend the LRA’s leaders. The report called for:
–The governments of all four countries where the LRA ranges make protecting civilians and rescuing the abducted a priority in any military operation against the renegades;
–Congo to provide its troops in LRA-affected areas with better communication equipment including satellite phones and radios;
–The U.N. to increase peacekeeping troops and civilian staff in the area as well as increasing logistical support — including air support — for the Congolese armed forces;
–International donors, concerned governments and regional bodies to provide helicopter support, intelligence and communications capacity to U.N. peacekeepers and national armies in the region;
–U.N. member states to deploy a small, highly trained military unit to assist peacekeepers and national armies to apprehend LRA leaders.
Entry filed under: Africa, Counter Insurgency, International Crime, Special Operations. Tags: Africa, AFRICOM, Central African Republic, child soldiers, Congo, counter terrorism, helicopter, Special Operations, Sudan, Uganda.