By Haggai Matsiko
Sudan frustrates UPDF, America hunt for Kony
As reports persist that Sudan is harboring Lord’s Resistance Army warlord Joseph Kony, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Henry Oryem, has told The Independent that the UPDF is maintaining a strong force at the border with DRC to ensure that “if Kony tries to cross out of CAR, we give him a bloody nose”.
Minister Oryem’s revelation is the latest indication of how seriously the Ugandan government and the international community are taking reports that Sudan is harbouring and aiding Kony.
We have encouraged Sudan to cooperate with regional efforts to counter the LRA,” Shannon Dorsey, the acting Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. embassy in Kampala said in an email response to The Independent, “…We believe it is critical that pressure continue to be put on the LRA to prevent it from regrouping. At present, AU forces have not been ordered out of CAR and are ready to resume operations in CAR when given the green light from the AU.”
She added that the U.S. has discussed concerns about the whereabouts of Joseph Kony with all governments in the region, including Sudan
The Independent was following up on a report by three American organisations Kony, who is wanted by International Criminal Court, keeps shifting from CAR to Sudan.
Citing LRA defectors, the three NGOs; Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, Invisible Children, and Enough compiled a report titled, `Hidden In Plain Sight Sudan’s Harboring of the LRA in the Kafia Kingi Enclave, 2009-2013’.
They note that Kony and the LRA between 2009 and 2013 kept coming and operating at a place called Kafia Kingi a strategically located intersection of the borders of CAR, South Sudan and the southwestern tip of Sudan. Kony, according to the report, first came to Kafia Kingi in 2010, and returned in 2011 and through parts of 2012.
“Along with other senior LRA commanders,” the report notes, “he [Kony] found safe harbor in a series of semipermanent encampments on the banks of the Umbelasha River near the SAF [Sudan Armed Forces] barracks in Dafak.”
What makes Kony’s Kafia Kingi presence deadly is it serves the LRA as a periodic safe haven from Ugandan forces authorised by the African Union Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA), the report notes.
Some former LRA combatants even testified that Kony seeks to establish a more permanent presence in Kafia Kingi where LRA forces can seek asylum and even cultivate crops. This would ensure he gets food supplies all the time and revitalize his force. Kafia Kingi is also located a few kilometers near the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) military garrison of Dafak and the report says Kony has previously been in touch with SAF officials from this garrison and asked renewed support.
Sudan has as far back as 1994, harbored and supported the LRA in what the report refers to as a cycle of opportunistic collaboration between the two parties.
“The military training, safe haven, weapons, and supplies the Sudanese government provided to the LRA were critical to the group’s growth into an increasingly deadly rebel force,” the report notes.
Felix Kulayigye, the UPDF Political Commissar told The Independent that Uganda has been aware of Kony’s presence in the Sudan controlled territory of Kafia Kingi.
“Enough is only confirming what we have always said and the fact that they [Sudan] have been supporting the LRA,” Kulaigye said.
Kulayigye said that Khartoum was saying that its sympathy to the LRA was because Uganda also supports elements against Khartoum.
“But we have been clear that we are cordial with Khartoum,” he said, “our officials are always going there and engaging with them.”
The African Union having designated the LRA as a terrorist group, all of its member states are supposed to ensure it cannot operate on their territory with impunity. By harboring Kony, therefore, it would seem that Sudan breaches this arrangement.
Asked what Uganda’s next step would be, Kulayigye referred The Independent to the ministry of foreign affairs.
“We have mechanisms in which we engage with Sudan,” Minister Oryem told The Independent, “our intelligence officers engage with officers there and the information we get is that it is some officers within the ranks of the Sudanese Forces who are sympathetic to the LRA that give them logistics and intelligence, Bashir has disassociated himself from any links to LRA.”
The three organizations note that the LRA’s ability to operate in Kafia Kingi with Sudanese support poses a severe threat to regional and international efforts to defeat the rebel group.
First, the The African Union-initiated Regional Task Force (RTF) led by Ugandan forces and assisted by 100 military advisers from the US to pursue the LRA, do not have permission to enter Kafia Kingi.
When the Seleka rebels took government in CAR, ordering foreign forces to leave the country, the AU mission and about 40 American Special Forces deployed in the country suspended operations against the LRA, they await clearance from the CAR authorities to resume the mission.
Minister Oryem says Uganda is also “using our diplomatic connections in other countries to talk to the CAR leadership for them to clear us and we resume the mission in CAR”.
US$5m bounty for Kony
Kony is said to command a scattered but coordinated rag-tag force of about 250 operating in CAR and DR Congo.
The U.S. in October 2011 deployed 100 troops to act as advisors in the hunt for Kony together with forces from the Uganda army.
The African Union-initiated Regional Task Force (RTF) against Kony had a joint regional force of approximately 5,000 dedicated to hunting for Kony. Over 2,000 of these are Ugandan soldiers.
The new NGO report notes that the takeover of the Seleka rebels in CAR has further destabilised the northeastern region of the country and made Kafia Kingi even more attractive for LRA commanders adept at exploiting ungoverned spaces.
These developments jeopardise progress made in the past twelve months against the LRA, the report adds, including a spike in LRA combatant defections and the capture or killing of two senior LRA commanders in CAR.
The report warns that unless addressed, it will also enable LRA leaders to outlast current counter-LRA operations.
“Though international diplomats and military officials working to stop LRA attacks privately acknowledge recent LRA movement in Kafia Kingi,” the groups note, “they have not adopted realistic strategies to prevent further support from Sudan to Kony’s forces.”
In the absence of effective diplomacy, the report adds, Sudanese government officials have refused to cooperate fully with regional counter-LRA initiatives and have denied allegations of the LRA’s presence in Kafia Kingi with impunity.
Shannon told The Independent that the U.S was committed to looking at the most effective ways to get the word out about the US$5 million bounty on offer for information leading to the arrest of top LRA leaders Joseph Kony, Okot Odhiambo, and Dominic Ongwen authorized by the U.S. Secretary of State.
She added that they also continue to work with NGOs and other partners to improve the FM infrastructure in LRA-affected areas so that communities are equipped to share information about LRA activity and efforts to promote defections. The report called for this continued support.
The hunt for Kony has not been smooth—with all those years of rebel activity experience, Kony and his rebel group have learnt to elude their hunters. They are always crossing the borders and even abandoned using tech objects like mobile phones to avoid being tapped by the U.S high tech surveillance equipment.
Although the report says that there is no evidence showing that the SAF’s recent support to the LRA included significant new arms or that Sudanese officials have actively sought to employ the group again as a proxy force to destabilize South Sudan, the likelihood of such a possibility is more apparent and a big threat.
On March 17, Sudan’s National Assembly Speaker Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir told Sudanese media that Khartoum was in talks with forces opposed to President Museveni to bring about positive political influence. Sudan also complained to the African Union that Uganda was supporting rebellion in Sudan.
Apart from Sudan, the Seleka rebels are also believed to be sympathetic to the LRA. The Independent has reported before that with the AU forces out of CAR, the likelihood of the LRA crossing to Sudan and getting support from there was even more likely. Kulaigye has said that the Seleka rebels also have connections with Khartoum.
These threats are never taken lightly in Uganda. Sudan is Uganda’s biggest threat and The Independent recently reported about how the two countries were in some kind of arms race between 2008 and 2012 with Uganda purchasing the 6 Su-30 combat aircraft, around the same period Sudan purchased 20 Mi-24 combat helicopters from Russia, 15 Su-25 combat aircraft from Belarus, 160 T-72 and T-55 tanks from Ukraine.
The three American organisations that have been at the centre of the campaign to end the conflict note that the recent departure from its established camps in Kafia Kingi provides international diplomats with an opportunity to convince the Sudanese government to definitively end its decades-long collaboration with the LRA.
The AU that is mediating ongoing negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, the report adds, is best positioned to lead an international effort to press Sudan to fully cooperate with regional counter-LRA efforts.
The organisations, recommended that AU officials engage Sudanese officials more regularly on this issue and develop incentives for Sudan to cooperate with the RCI-LRA.
They also recommend that the members of the UN Security Council call for Sudan’s direct cooperation in the fight against the LRA.
Kony had been dealt a decisive blow with his numbers dwindling by the day. That is why the suspension of the hunt against him was not welcomed by international activists, who expressed fears that such a move would revitalize him and his brutality.
“A premature withdrawal would have devastating and immediate consequences for civilians in LRA-affected areas,” said Ben Keesey, head of Invisible Children, an activist group that produced the controversial Kony2012 to create awareness about the LRA was quoted in international media. “It gives Kony a new lease on life, enabling him to regain power by initiating new rounds of abductions in communities that will be left totally unprotected and vulnerable to LRA attacks.”