Lord's Resistance Army

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The conflict forces many civilians to live in internally displaced person (IDP) camps. The Labuje IDP camp (pictured) is near Kitgum Town.
The conflict forces many civilians to live in internally displaced person (IDP) camps. The Labuje IDP camp (pictured) is near Kitgum Town.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), formed in 1987, is a rebel paramilitary group operating mainly in northern Uganda. The group is engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government in what is now one of Africa's longest-running conflicts. It is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself a spirit medium and apparently wishes to establish a state based on his unique interpretation of Biblical millenarianism. The LRA have been accused of widespread human rights violations, including the abduction of civilians, the use of child soldiers and a number of massacres.

It is estimated that around 20,000 children have been kidnapped by the group since 1987 for use as soldiers and sex slaves. The group performs abductions primarily from the Acholi people, who have borne the brunt of the 18 year LRA campaign. The insurgency has been mainly contained to the region known as Acholiland, consisting of the districts of Kitgum, Gulu, and Pader, though since 2002 violence has overflowed into other districts. The LRA has also operated across the porous border region with Southern Sudan, subjecting Sudanese civilians to its horrific tactics.

Up to 12,000 people have been killed in the violence, with many more dying from disease and malnutrition as a direct result of the conflict. Nearly two million civilians have been forced to flee their homes, living in internally displaced person (IDP) camps and within the safety of larger settlements, sleeping on street corners and in other public spaces.[1] Despite these forced migrations, the plight of the Acholi people has received little media coverage in the developed world. Not until April 2004 did the UN Security Council issue a formal condemnation.

While the LRA now appears to consist of less than two thousand combatants that are under intense pressure from the Ugandan military, the government has been unable to end the insurgency so far. Ongoing peace negotiations have been complicated by an investigation by the International Criminal Court. The conflict continues to retard Uganda's development efforts, costing the poor country's economy a cumulative total of at least $1.33 billion, which is equivalent to 3% of GDP, or $100 million annually.[2] A 2005 poll of humanitarian professionals, media personalities, academics and activists identified the conflict in the north of Uganda as the second worst "forgotten" humanitarian emergency in the world.[3]

The LRA has been known by a number of different names, including the Lord's Army (1987 to 1988) and the Uganda Peoples' Democratic Christian Army (UPDCA) (1988 to 1992) before settling on the current name in 1992. Some academics have included the LRA under the rubric Lakwena Part Two. For simplicity's sake, this article will refer to all of these various manifestations as the "Lord's Resistance Army".

Kitgum, Gulu and Pader encompass most Acholi
Kitgum, Gulu and Pader encompass most Acholi


The origins of the LRA (January 1986 to June 1988)

The January 1986 overthrow of President Tito Okello, an ethnic Acholi, by the National Resistance Army (NRA) of southwest Ugandan Yoweri Museveni marked a period of intense turmoil. The Acholi feared the loss of their traditional dominance of the national military; they were also deeply concerned that the NRA would seek retribution for the brutal counterinsurgency, particularly the actions of the army in the Luwero triangle. (Doom and Vlassenroot 9) By August of that year, a full-blown popular insurgency had developed in northern regions that were occupied by government forces.

In January 1987 Joseph Kony made his first appearance as a spirit medium. Few took notice as numerous mediums claiming to be the torchbearers of a holy war emerged after the initial success of the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Auma. Throughout 1987, Kony gained military strength by absorbing small units of the rebel Uganda People's Democratic Army, and through violent competition with other Acholi rebel groups for resources and fighters. In late 1987, he agreed to join the UPDA in attacking Gulu Town; however, he then betrayed them by attacking the UPDA headquarters in retaliation for UPDA attempts to steal food being delivered by Kony’s supporters. (Behrend 179 to 180)

Around this time, Kony changed the name of his group to The Lord's Army, reflecting the increased importance he placed on the religious aspects of his insurgency. At the beginning of 1988, prominent ex-soldier Otunu Lukonyomoi joined the LRA. He was popular for his high moral standards for the conduct of LRA rebels, especially in their treatment of civilians. This resulted in a rivalry with Kony, but the two managed to reconcile before it led to a split in the organization.

In June 1988, when it became clear that the UPDA would sign a peace accord with the NRA, Kony wrote a letter to an NRA officer requesting a meeting, but was attacked before talks could be held, allegedly due to a miscommunication between NRA units. The NRA leadership also found the mysticism of the LRA to be baffling ([4]). The end result was that Kony's attempt to engage in talks with the government was never fully explored.

A small domestic insurgency (June 1988 to March 1994)

The June 1988 peace accord between the UPDA and the NRA, as well as the defeat the year before of the Holy Spirit Movement, left the group led by Kony as the only significant rebel force operating in Acholiland. Former commander Odong Latek of the UPDA and some of his soldiers refused to accept the accord and joined the LRA. Latek gained a lot of influence in the organization, and convinced Kony to adopt conventional guerrilla tactics. Prior to this, LRA forces normally attacked in a cross-shaped formation with designated persons sprinkling holy water, much like the Holy Spirit Movement. (Behrend 184) Tactics since consist primarily of surprise attacks on civilian targets, such as villages. These attacks are carried out by highly mobile groups of 15 that split into groups of three to six to disperse after the attack. (Refugee Law Project 21) The LRA will also occasionally carry out large-scale attacks to underline the inability of the government to protect the populace. The tactical changes were reflected in the adoption of yet another organizational name, the Uganda Peoples' Democratic Christian Army (UPDCA). In October 1988, the highly respected Otunu Lukonyomoi was killed in an NRA ambush, following which a number of rebels left to join the NRA. This greatly weakened the LRA's fighting strength. (Behrend 182)

The LRA is led by Joseph Kony. The group has never made a clear statement of its political aims.
The LRA is led by Joseph Kony. The group has never made a clear statement of its political aims.

In mid-1988, President Museveni created the position of "Minister of State for Pacification of Northern Uganda, Resident in Gulu." He assigned the post to the Acholi Betty Oyella Bigombe, who was tasked with convincing insurgents to abandon their struggle. Protests at the connotation of the word "pacification" led to the revision of the title to "Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Resident in Northern Uganda." Nevertheless, in late 1988 the LRA gave the NRA a number of defeats. Until 1991 the LRA continued to operate in small bands as a classic insurgency and raided the populace for supplies, which were carried away by villagers who were abducted for short periods. The fact that some units of NRA soldiers were known for their brutal actions ensured that the LRA were given at least passive support by segments of the Acholi population ([5]).

Operation North (1991 to 1992)

March 1991 saw the start of a massive government attempt to destroy the LRA, later known as "Operation North." The whole of Northern Uganda was locked down and all humanitarian organizations were forced to leave in preparation for counterinsurgency operations. Operation North combined efforts to destroy the combatants while cutting away its roots of support among the population through heavy-handed tactics, including arbitrary arrests, torture and extralegal executions. (Gersony 31, [6]) While Operation North was prompted partially by the activities of the LRA, the World Bank had made a loan available for reconstruction of Northern infrastructure, which could not be implemented in an insecure environment ([7]).

As part of Operation North, Minister Bigombe created "Arrow Groups", mostly armed with bows and arrows, as a form of local community defense. As the LRA was armed with modern weaponry, the bow-and-arrow groups were overpowered. Nevertheless, the creation of the Arrow Groups angered Kony, who began to feel that he no longer had the support of the population. In response the LRA mutilated numerous Acholi who they believed to be government supporters, cutting off their hands, noses and ears, padlocking their mouths shut through holes cut in their lips, or simply hacking them to death with machetes. (Dolan 15, Gersony 33) Kony would later explain the reasons for these actions: "If you pick up an arrow against us and we ended up cutting off the hand you used, who is to blame? You report us with your mouth, and we cut off your lips? Who is to blame? It is you! The Bible says that if your hand, eye or mouth is at fault, it should be cut off." ([8]) While the government efforts were a failure, the LRA reaction caused many Acholi to finally turn against the insurgency. However, this was tempered by the deep-seated antagonism towards the occupying government forces.

To avoid abduction by the LRA, every night as many as 40,000 children flee their homes in the countryside to sleep in the relative safety of towns. Known as "night commuters", they seek refuge overnight at churches, hospitals, bus stations and temporary shelters before returning home again each morning.
To avoid abduction by the LRA, every night as many as 40,000 children flee their homes in the countryside to sleep in the relative safety of towns. Known as "night commuters", they seek refuge overnight at churches, hospitals, bus stations and temporary shelters before returning home again each morning.

The Bigombe talks (1993 to 1994)

After the failure of Operation North, Minister Bigombe on her own accord initiated contact with Kony through an LRA sympathizer in June 1993. This led to the most promising diplomatic efforts of the first 18 years of the insurgency. Following Kony's reply that he would be willing to talk, Bigombe informed the military and President Yoweri Museveni, who approved further negotiations though he stated that military operations would continue.

In November 1993, the first face-to-face meeting between representatives of the LRA and government took place under an agreed cease-fire at Pagik in Gulu District. Bigombe represented the government and brought several Acholi elders as well as the commander of the Fourth Division, Col. Samuel Wasswa, who was responsible for military operations in the North, while the LRA sent members of Kony's inner circle. The LRA asked for a general amnesty for their combatants and stated that they would not surrender, but were willing to "return home." Bigombe reassured the LRA that they would not be treated as a vanquished foe, and Wasswa agreed to a cease-fire to allow the negotiations to continue.

However, several influential officers within the NRA felt that the government was caving in to rebel demands. Bigombe's superior, the Prime Minister, refused to support the peace process publicly or logistically, possibly because of a struggle over who would claim credit for a final peace deal. The ambiguous stance of the senior political leadership was also problematic. At a second meeting on 10 January 1994, Kony himself gave a four-hour speech in which he blamed the Acholis as "responsible for the war that had backfired with terrible results that everyone now blamed Kony for." In one-on-one talks with Bigombe, Kony asked for six months to regroup his troops. ([9])

The Bigombe talks collapse (February 1994)

This demand for six months was widely perceived as excessive. It was later revealed that the military had learned that Kony was negotiating with the Sudanese government for support while talking to Bigombe, and felt that Kony was simply trying to buy time. Regardless, the sight of LRA combatants traveling openly and peacefully had created an expectation among the Acholi that a final peace was at hand. However, by early February the tone of the negotiations was growing increasingly acrimonious. The LRA negotiating team felt that the NRA officers were acting arrogantly as victors accepting terms from a defeated foe, contrary to the understanding reached at the first meeting, and traded harsh words over the negotiating table. Bigombe apparently also felt caught between her dual role as government representative and chief mediator, and believed that she was not receiving adequate support from the government as a whole. Following a meeting on 2 February, the LRA broke off negotiations stating that they felt that the NRA was trying to entrap them. Four days later, President Yoweri Museveni spoke to a crowd in Gulu and announced a seven-day deadline for the LRA to surrender; otherwise the government would pursue a military solution ([10]). Whatever the reason, and regardless of whether or not the LRA was negotiating in good faith, this ultimatum ended the Bigombe initiative.

An international conflict (March 1994 to March 2002)

Two weeks after Museveni delivered his ultimatum, LRA fighters were reported to have crossed the border and established bases in southern Sudan with the approval of the Khartoum government ([11]). The end of the Bigombe initiatives marks a fundamental shift in the character of the Lord's Resistance Army, which is estimated to have consisted of 3,000 to 4,000 combatants at this time. (Gersony 40) This is the turning point at which the LRA becomes essentially the organization that operates today.

Sudanese support expands the scale of the conflict

Sudanese aid was a response to Ugandan support for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting in the civil war in the south of the country. Prior to this support, the LRA could be treated as a minor irritant in the outskirts of the country; now it also had to be considered a proxy force of the Khartoum government. Sudanese support allowed the LRA to increase the intensity of its operations beyond the level at which it was previously capable. Not only was a safe haven granted from which the LRA could launch attacks into Uganda, but Sudan also gave a large amount of arms, ammunition, land mines and other supplies ([12]). In return, the LRA was expected to deny territory to the SPLA and periodically participate in joint operations with the Sudanese army. (Refugee Law Project 18) The increased intensity of attacks through proxy forces led Uganda and Sudan to the brink of open hostilities in 1995. (Ofcansky 196 to 200)

Acholi civilians as targets

There was also a marked change in how the LRA perceived the conflict. Having become convinced that the Acholi were now collaborating with the Museveni government, Kony began to target the civilians using his increased military strength. Mutilations such as those carried out in the wake of the Arrow Group strategy became commonplace, and 1994 saw the first mass forced abduction of children and young people. Other militant groups, such as the West Nile Bank Front, adopted the LRA tactics of abductions and raids. The strategy of forced recruitment was prompted by the lack of new volunteers to continue the conflict, and the fact that the young could be indoctrinated to support the LRA much more easily than adults. Furthermore, the LRA no longer had to spend much of its energies in the search for basic supplies now that they were supported by Sudan. (Refugee Law Project 20) The moral rationale was that since the Acholi adults had proven themselves untrustworthy, the LRA must cleanse the land of them and create a new society with the children. This philosophical approach, similar to that taken by the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, has been referred to as "auto-genocide." (Jackson 43)

The attacks on civilians have at least three strategic objectives. First, to deny the government information about its movements by forcing the rural population to flee. Second, to gather resources from the looted villages. (Refugee Law Project 20) Third and most bizarrely, to show the populace that the government is unable or unwilling to provide protection, and thus encourage people to support to the LRA. While the lack of security has certainly embittered many Acholi, this has not translated into support for the LRA forces that are attacking them. (Doom and Vlassenroot 32)

Women lining up to draw water from a borehole in Labuje camp, Kitgum
Women lining up to draw water from a borehole in Labuje camp, Kitgum

"Protected villages" created in 1996

The creation of government "protected villages" beginning in 1996 further deepened the antagonistic attitude that many Acholi have toward the government. While many Acholi were already displaced by the conflict, they resented being ordered into camps. A strategy of resettlement, or "villagization," is a common anti-insurgent technique, used extensively for example by the United States throughout the Indian Wars to isolate Native Americans in reservations. It is intended to free up troops that would otherwise be attempting to defend innumerable small communities and to deny the rebels access to resources. Nevertheless, the population continues to be attacked by the LRA even within the "protected camps." The camps are also crowded, unsanitary, and miserable places to live. (Dolan 19, Weeks 4)

A culture of peace and a gradual subsiding

The bloodshed in 1995 to 1996 appears to have convinced the population that a negotiated solution was the only acceptable option. This is what one writer calls the emergence of "a culture of peace." (Weeks 17) As most of the LRA combatants are abducted children, a military solution is widely seen by the Acholi as a massacre of victims. Government attempts to destroy the rebels are thus viewed as another cause for grievance by the Acholi. The moral ambiguity of this situation, in which abducted young rebels are both the victims and perpetrators of brutal acts, is vital in understanding the current conflict.

Meanwhile, in 1997 the Sudanese government of the National Islamic Front had begun to back away from its previous hard-line stance. This was prompted by the leadership of new President Omar al-Bashir, who wanted to ensure export of the oil from the newly developed fields being wrested from SPLA control. The U.S. had also taken a more proactive stance against the National Islamic Front government. U.S. pressure on Sudan intensified following the 1998 bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by al-Qaeda operatives with links to Sudan. Over the next several years, Khartoum is believed to have substantially curtailed aid to the LRA. In 1999 the Carter Center mediated the Nairobi Agreement between Uganda and Sudan, which restored diplomatic relations in 2001 ([13]).

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan

In 2000, the Parliament of Uganda passed the Amnesty Act. This act pardons rebels who give themselves up to the Amnesty Commission and renounce violence. While it did not end the insurgency, it proved effective enough in some of the other regions of the country that had experienced rebellion to be maintained. (Weeks 16)

The sudden appearance of LRA units in June 2001 who contacted local government officials to discuss the possibility of dialogue created a flurry of speculation that the LRA was tiring of their insurgency. The Uganda People's Defense Force – the renamed NRA – created a demilitarized zone for the talks, a measure that had the implicit approval of President Museveni. The talks were exploratory in nature and the LRA units eventually returned to Sudan. However, analysts believed that they were initiated at the behest of Kony and indicated the most promising diplomatic environment since the collapse of the Bigombe talks in 1994. (Afako 6 to 7)

Following the al-Qaeda attacks in 2001 upon the World Trade Center and The Pentagon in the U.S., the relationship between Sudan and Uganda abruptly changed. The NIF government was anxious to avoid any blame that may be attached to them for their offering of sanctuary to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden for several years in the 1990s. Also, following the condemnation of the LRA by the U.S. State Department, Sudan agreed to stop supplying aid to the LRA. (Afako 6)

Cross-border tensions were dialed down as support to proxy forces fell. The LRA itself appeared settled into their Sudanese base camps and only periodically crossed the border. (Refugee Law Project 30) Some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the war began to return to their homes. The number of people displaced by the conflict declined to about half a million, and people began to talk openly of the day when the "protected camps" would be disbanded. (Weeks 36)

The insurgency flares (March 2002 to present)

Areas affected by the LRA insurgency after "Operation Iron Fist"
Areas affected by the LRA insurgency after "Operation Iron Fist"

In March 2002, the UPDF launched a massive military offensive, named "Operation Iron Fist", against the LRA bases in southern Sudan. The National Islamic Front government agreed to the entry of the Ugandan military into its borders, albeit below the so-called "red line" consisting of the Juba-Torit highway. This was part of its efforts to broadcast its new status as an engaged member of the international community. This agreement, coupled with the return of Ugandan forces that had been deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo upon the official end of the Second Congo War, created what the Ugandan government felt was an ideal situation in which to end a conflict that had become both an embarrassment and political liability ([14]).

This attempt at a heroic finish to the conflict failed in a spectacular manner. After several months of uncertainty, LRA forces began crossing back into Uganda and carrying out attacks on a scale and of a brutality not seen since 1995 to 1996. The LRA then began to move into areas outside of Acholiland, apparently in search of support. However, when the local populace began to resist, the LRA extended its combat operations. This resulted in widespread displacement and suffering in regions that had never previously been touched by the insurgency. (Refugee Law Project 32) Part of the failure of Operation Iron Fist is due to the large stockpile of supplies that the LRA had accumulated during the period that it was supported by the Sudanese government. However, the government also failed to destroy all of the LRA positions in Sudan, resulting in a fluid low-intensity conflict affecting a significant area of both southern Sudan and northern Uganda. There have also been reports that at least some elements in the Sudanese government are continuing to provide supplies to the LRA. This would negate predictions of its imminent destruction which are predicated on its supposed isolation ([15]).

The former head of the UPDF, Maj. Gen. James Kazini, estimated LRA strength at 1,500 in May 2002. UPDF spokesman Maj. Shaban Bantariza put the figure at 900 fighters in mid-2003. These numbers are not necessarily contradictory if the first number includes noncombatants such as abducted "wives" and children too young to handle weapons. However, Human Rights Watch in a July 2003 report put the figure at 4,500. The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in its 2002 to 2003 report said LRA has 1,500 fighters. IISS added, however, that only 200 of the LRA troops are inside Uganda, the rest are in Sudan ([16]).

Attempts at peace and militia creation (Early 2003)

In the spring of 2003, there were several unsuccessful diplomatic initiatives. Diplomatic efforts between the two sides historically failed because of an inability for the LRA to define an agenda and negotiate terms credibly. Meanwhile, the government has shown a predilection for abandoning diplomatic efforts in favor of military solutions. The government, remembering the simultaneous negotiations by the LRA with both Bigombe and Sudan in 1994, acted as if any LRA proposal was an attempt to achieve temporary military respite. Meanwhile, the LRA, on the basis of a number of occasions where units in a declared cease-fire zone were attacked, believed that the government was not credible. The UPDF declared that it had learned from past mistakes and was now certain to defeat the LRA. These proclamations had been made before, and many observers expressed skepticism ([17]).

The Ugandan army has struggled to defend many towns and villages from LRA attacks. The government fostered and armed militias against the LRA in the affected districts. Although these militias are variously called "Arrow Groups" and "Rhino Groups", the government apparently drew a lesson from the Arrow Group fiasco in the early 1990s and has armed these militias with assault rifles. Some observers fear that the introduction of more weapons in northern Uganda will create more problems in the longer term.

Involvement of international organizations

During a November 2003 field visit to Uganda, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland stated, "I cannot find any other part of the world that is having an emergency on the scale of Uganda, that is getting such little international attention." ([18]) This was followed, on 14 April 2004, by UN Security Council condemnation of the atrocities committed by the LRA, and expressions of concern about the plight of the displaced children ([19]).

In December 2003, Ugandan President Museveni referred the LRA to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to determine if the LRA is guilty of international war crimes. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo formally opened an investigation in January 2004. Some local Ugandan groups have criticized this move, as an ICC conviction of Joseph Kony and his senior lieutenants is seen to make a negotiated end to the conflict nearly impossible. In November 2004, President Museveni was reported to be exploring ways to withdraw the referral made to the ICC, which was seen as a complication to what appeared to be a significant movement towards a negotiated peace. The human rights group Amnesty International protested the move ([20]).

Late 2004 peace talks collapse (15 November to 31 December 2004)

A market stall in an IDP camp
A market stall in an IDP camp

From the middle of 2004 on, rebel activity dropped markedly under intense military pressure. There were reports of significant numbers of LRA rebels taking advantage of the government Amnesty Act. On 15 November 2004, the government declared a unilateral seven-day cease-fire subsequently extended. During the cease-fire substantial numbers of rebels gathered in government-designated zones to discuss a government proposal from August 2002. In this proposal Museveni had offered to talk to the LRA, saying his government would under certain conditions halt operations against the LRA and open talks to end the conflict. These steps were taken after numerous LRA commanders contacted either the government or third parties and expressed a willingness to end the conflict. Senior LRA commander Brigadier Sam Kolo has stated that Joseph Kony has granted him the authority to negotiate on behalf of the rebels ([21]).

In mid-December 2004 a number of civilians were killed by bands of LRA operating near the Sudanese town of Juba. These rebels had purportedly lost contact with their chain of command under the ongoing government assault ([22]). Also, the Ugandan government reported that it had attacked a band led by Joseph Kony himself outside of the declared cease-fire zones. Sam Kolo stated that the continued government attacks make it difficult to establish a minimal basis of trust to progress with the peace talks. On 31 December 2004, the extended 47 day truce expired without an agreement.

Negotiations amidst ongoing conflict (1 January 2005 to 3 February)

On 1 January 2005, rebels recommenced hostilities in Alero, Gulu. President Museveni declared that military "operations will not cease ever again until the Kony group irreversibly commit themselves to come out of the bush" and that "the combination of both the military option and dialogue will bring peace in northern Uganda." ([23]) On 19 January, the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières listed the conflict in northern Uganda as one of the "Top Ten" most underreported humanitarian stories of 2004 ([24]).

The signing of a peace deal ending the Second Sudanese Civil War between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army prompted speculation that a more stable Sudan would help end the LRA insurgency ([25]). In late January, SPLA leader John Garang pledged that he would not allow the LRA to operate in the south once he gained formal control of the region ([26]). While Garang died in a helicopter crash several months later, this did not appear to shake the close cooperation between the SPLA and Uganda.

Throughout January 2005, talks mediated by Betty Bigombe continued in Gulu. LRA commanders Vincent Otti and Sam Kolo participated on behalf of Joseph Kony. However, the exact negotiating position of Kony remains uncertain. A senior analyst of the International Crisis Group stated, "He likens himself to Moses, and like Moses he doesn't believe he'll make it to the Promised Land, which provides a very dangerous ambiguity to whether he will ever let himself personally be part of the peace process."

Another cease-fire and LRA arrest warrants from the ICC (February to September 2005)

On 3 February 2005, President Museveni announced an 18 day cease-fire, backing away from previous commitments to sustain military operations until the LRA committed to withdraw from the bush. Minister of Internal Affairs Ruhakana Rugunda commented that "the declaration of the 18-day cease-fire is a clear indication that the President or the government is committed to ending this 18-year-old war peacefully." Chief mediator Betty Bigombe stated on 7 February, "The cease-fire is absolutely holding and the peace process is now on course." ([27]) However, the peace process was weakened after Sam Kolo, the LRA's chief negotiator, surrendered to the government in mid-February ([28]).

A U.S. State Department draft report released on 3 February stated that up to 12,000 people had been killed by rebel violence and 20,000 children had been abducted over the course of the war. This was the first attempt to quantify the casualties from the LRA conflict, but did not include deaths from conflict-related malnutrition and disease. The spokesperson for the Ugandan military expressed doubt about the accuracy of the estimate: "They are simply giving a probing figure. They do not have accurate information. They want to cause us to come out and dispute them which we may not do." The government also admitted for the first time that it was recruiting former abductees and returning them to the battlefield. The army stated that around 800 former abductees have been recruited, hundreds of whom are believed to be below 18 years of age ([29]).

In February 2005, the International Criminal Court announced that 12 arrest warrants were to be issued for LRA war crimes suspects, the first such warrants since the ICC was established in July 2002. The ICC chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, said the court intends to start its first war crimes trial in Uganda by July 2005. "During the coming year, there will be warrants," ICC spokesperson Christian Palme commented, "the prosecutor is looking at a very small group of LRA top leaders." Palme did not rule out possible prosecution of members of the Uganda People's Defence Forces in relation to their conflicts with the LRA, but stated, "LRA crimes are far more serious than the crimes of UPDF" ([30]).

Following a visit to meet local leaders in northern Uganda, Ocampo stated that he might be able to delay issuing warrants in deference to the ongoing negotiations. Bigombe said that she would abandon mediation of the peace process if the ICC prosecution continued. During the first half of March, the LRA carried out six reported attacks in which 12 civilians were reported dead and about 50 were abducted, often in response to government proclamations that the rebels were nearly or completely defeated. [31] The Ugandan government continue to maintain contact with the rebels, including Joseph Kony himself. [32]

The government has been the target of increasingly pointed criticism from the international community for its failure to end the conflict. International aid agencies have questioned the Ugandan government's reliance on military force and its commitment to a peaceful resolution. "The military strategy employed by the Government of Uganda is not protecting its civilians," said Emma Naylor, Oxfam's Country Program Manager Officer in Uganda. "Instead we are seeing increased suffering and numbers of civilian casualties. We need a renewal of commitment from all sides to finding a peaceful solution to this conflict."[33] Some observers have accused the government of Yoweri Museveni of abandoning the north. Adams Aloo of the University of Nairobi has commented that "Since the north was proving to be quite difficult to control, [Museveni] did decide that he could lead the country without necessarily controlling the north ... To that extent, he has moved as if the north doesn't really matter, whether he brings it under control or not, that Uganda continues to move on, that the international community seems to be impressed with the pace of development." [34]

In May 2005, the World Food Programme reported that 1.4 million people displaced by the conflict were facing severe food shortages. The ongoing insecurity prevented the IDPs from tilling and planting farm land, as well as making it difficult for relief organizations to reach persons in need. WFP warned that the predicted malnutrition would cause death rates to rise. ([35]

LRA in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (September 2005 to present)

In mid-September 2005, band of LRA fighters led by Vincent Otti, who had crossed the White Nile several days earlier, continued traveling west and crossed into the Orientale province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at Garamba National Park. At least two other bands, one of which was supposedly led by Kony, were reported to be moving westward from the historic stronghold of the LRA in northcentral Uganda and southeastern Sudan. This was the first LRA movement into the DRC. The UPDF stated that they had achieved control of northern Uganda and that their military efforts were being frustrated by the refusal of the transition Sudanese government to grant permission to cross the Juba-Torit "Red Line". Lt-General Aronda Nyakairima stated that "Kony's death was in sight had we got permission to follow him past the red line. He is now fleeing for his life just like Lakwena did." [36] These claims came at the same time that Human Rights Watch called for the ICC to investigate the UPDF for war crimes in northern Uganda.

Representatives of the United Nations and the Congolese national army met with a band of LRA thought to be under the command of Vincent Otti in northeastern DRC on 25 September 2005. There was some surprise that this, the first meeting between the UN and LRA, was easy to arrange. General Paderi of the DRC army told the LRA that they needed to disarm as a prerequisite to future talks.[37] Four days later, President Museveni declared that, if Congolese authorities did not disarm the LRA combatants, the UPDF would be sent across the border in pursuit. [38] This sparked a diplomatic row between the governments of the DRC and Uganda, with both militaries making a show of force along their border, while the Congolese ambassador to the United Nations sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General demanding that an economic embargo be placed on Uganda in retaliation.

On 6 October 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, and LRA commanders Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odiambo and Dominic Ongwen. These were the first warrants issued by the ICC since it was established in 2002. Details of the warrants had been sent to the three countries where the LRA is active: Uganda, Sudan and the DRC. The LRA leadership had long stated that they would never surrender unless they were granted immunity from prosecution, and the ICC order to arrest them almost guaranteed that the insurgency will not have a negotiated end. [39]

Prominent incidents

Number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and IDPs as a percentage of total population in northern Ugandan districts.
Number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and IDPs as a percentage of total population in northern Ugandan districts.

Attacks, raids and abductions by the Lord's Resistance Army are a commonplace occurrence in northern Uganda, and are rarely reported outside the country. During periods of heightened activity, such as 1996 to 1997 and 2002 to 2004, murders and abductions are reported almost daily. While it would be impractical to list every such attack (and it is unlikely that every incident has been documented), the following is a partial list of incidents that are exceptional either because of the large number of victims, the identity of the victims, or the circumstances of the incident.

Atiak Trading Center in northern Gulu was attacked and the Local Defense Forces routed. Over the course of the day between 170 and 220 civilians were killed in the absence of resistance from government forces.
Thirteen civilians, some with their hands tied behind their backs, were killed in a government gunship attack on an LRA column near Lokung, northwest Kitgum. Sixteen LRA combatants were also killed. Critics charged reckless disregard for abductee lives; the government claimed the killings were accidental and unintentional.
A civilian convoy of over 20 vehicles with a military escort of 14 soldiers traveling west on the Karuma-Pakwach road was ambushed. Between 50 and 110 civilians were killed, most after the escort had been overcome. Some were executed; others were killed after they refused to exit their buses and explosives were thrown inside.
Mr. Okot Ogony of Cwero, eastern Gulu, Chairman of the Peace Commission of the Council of Acholi Chiefs, and Mr. Olanya Lacony, a respected elder from Kac-Goma, southwestern Gulu, were found murdered near Cwero in still unexplained circumstances. They were the leaders of a local initiative to restart the peace talks that had collapsed in February 1994 and had the approval of the President of Uganda and an invitation from the LRA. Some blame the LRA, while others point to corrupt NRA officers.
Three separate attacks made upon a settlement of Sudanese refugees in southern Kitgum (now Pader District) administered by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Approximately 100 refugees were killed.
Four LRA suspects were turned over to an Acholi mob that beat them to death. The suspects were under government custody and are reported to have been turned over to the mob in the presence of senior Uganda Fourth Division officers.
The Aboke abductions drew international attention
The Aboke abductions drew international attention
At about 2 a.m. about 200 armed men broke into St. Mary's College in Aboke, northern Apac District, and abducted 152 secondary school girls between 13 and 16 years of age before leaving at about 5 a.m. At 7 a.m., the deputy head mistress of the college, Sister Rachele Fassera, pursued the rebels and negotiated the release of 109 of the girls.
Up to 412 civilians were killed in and around the subcounties of Lokung and Palabek in northwest Kitgum. There were no opposing forces and most victims were bludgeoned or hacked to death.
Twenty refugees killed in the second major attack on the Achol-pi Refugee Settlement in central Pader District. The 24,000 Sudanese refugees were transferred to safer locations and the settlement disbanded.
Over 200 civilians at a IDP camp in Barlonyo near Lira Town were murdered. (Photos)
Street protests and riots protesting the government's failure to adequately protect civilians caused at least nine deaths in Lira town. The violence was partly motivated by animosity towards the Acholi, who many Langi collectively blame for the LRA insurgency.
A series of fires ravaged dry and cramped IDP camps. A fire in Agweng camp in northern Lira district, with 26,000 residents, killed six and left ten thousand homeless on 21 January. The next day 278 homes were burnt down in Apac district's Abok camp. On Sunday, 23 January a fire at Acet camp in Gulu District affected six of seven zones, killing three and burning 4,000 huts, leaving 20,000 homeless.
Forty LRA rebels crossed the White Nile for the first time and burn houses near Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, along the road to Yei. Since the rioting that followed the death of John Garang, Juba was almost entirely reliant on food shipped by road by Yei.

Attack between Juba and Yei [31 October 2005] A group of LRA soldiers ambushed a team of humanitarian deminers (from FSD). Two deminers were killed, one Iraqi and one Sudanese. This follows a previous abduction of an FSD survey team on 13 September (in which the LRA did not kill anyone). OLS and UN Security gave a travel warning to all UN and non-UN agencies on 1 November 2005. The LRA has since declared that it is deliberately targeting NGOs and especially international staff members.

  • Arrest warrants and the International Criminal Court (7 October 2005)
On October 7th, the International Criminal Court announced that they had issued arrest warrents for 5 leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army, for crimes against humanity, following a sealed indictment. The warrants were issued for Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and LRA commanders Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odiambo and Dominic Ongwen.


  • Behrend, H. (M. Cohen, trans.) Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits: War in Northern Uganda, 1985-97, James Currey, 2000. ISBN 0821413112. (Originally published as Behrend, H. 1993. Alice und die Geister: Krieg in Norden Uganda. Trickster, Munich.)
    • "War in Northern Uganda: The Holy Spirit Movements of Alice Lakwena, Severino Lukoya and Joseph Kony (1986-1997)", in Clapham, C. ed. African Guerillas. James Currey, Oxford, 1998.
  • De Temmerman, E. Aboke Girls: Children Abducted in Northern Uganda, Fountain, 2001. ISBN 9970022563. (Originally published as De Temmerman, E. De meisjes van Aboke: Kindsoldaten in Noord-Oeganda. De Kern, 2000. ISBN 9053121463.)
  • Doom, R. and K. Vlassenroot. "Kony's message: a new koine? The Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda," African Affairs 98 (390) 1999: 5 to 36
  • Gingyera-Pincywa, A.G. "Is there a Northern Question?" in K. Rupesinghe, ed. Conflict Resolution in Uganda, International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, 1989.
  • Jackson, P. "The March of the Lord's Resistance Army: Greed or Grievance in Northern Uganda?" Small Wars and Insurgencies 13, no. 3 (Autumn 2002): 29 to 52.
  • Ofcansky, T. "Warfare and Instability Along the Sudan-Uganda Border: A Look at the Twentieth Century" in Spaulding, J. and S. Beswick, eds. White Nile, Black Blood: War, Leadership, and Ethnicity from Khartoum to Kampala. Red Sea Press, Lawrenceville, NJ: 195-210, 2000.
  • Ward, K. "'The Armies of the Lord': Christianity, Rebels and the State in Northern Uganda, 1986-1999", Journal of Religion in Africa 31 (2), 2001.

See also

External links

The University of British Columbia has a Human Security in Northern Uganda project site with extensive links from before mid-2004

Reports and news articles (chronological)

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