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WASHINGTON, May 13 2010 (IPS) - The U.S. Congress has cleared legislation requiring President Barack Obama to devise a strategy over the next six months to help capture the leadership of the Lord’s Revolutionary Army (LRA) and protect the civilian population in four eastern and central African countries from its rampages.
In approving by voice vote the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act”, the House of Representatives sent the bill, which was approved by the Senate in March, to the White House for Obama’s signature.
Backers of the bill included both Republicans and Democrats, as well as many humanitarian and human rights groups that have expressed outrage at reports of recent massacres and other depredations carried out by the LRA in the northeastern region of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
“Congress is committed to ending the LRA’s reign of terror,” said Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, the bill’s Senate co-author, after the vote.
“I urge President Obama to sign this bill into law and quickly develop a plan to stop (LRA leader) Joseph Kony and the LRA from committing further atrocities by bringing a lasting resolution to the conflict.”
In fact, Washington under both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, has provided “non-lethal” and logistical support to the Ugandan army, in particular, in its efforts to subdue the LRA and its leadership, particularly after Kony, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity, failed twice to sign a peace accord to end an insurgency that dates back to 1988. The U.S. has listed the LRA as a terrorist group.
Kony and much of his army escaped, however, and responded later that month by carrying out their own attacks against defenceless villages and civilians, in the DRC and southern Sudan, killing more than 850 civilians and forcing as many as 1.8 million people in the region to flee their homes, according to human rights monitors.
One year later, the LRA killed at least 321 civilians and abducted 250 others, including at least 80 children in the Makombo area of northeastern DRC, according to a major report, entitled “Trail of Death”, released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the end of March.
“The LRA’s objectives are threefold: kill, capture and resupply for its next pillage. There is no other reason for its being,” said Rep. Ed Royce, the ranking Republican on the House Africa subcommittee. “The removal of Kony and his top leadership would decapitate this group. This legislation ensures U.S. leadership in making that happen. The day can’t come soon enough.”
The bill requires that the Obama administration develop a comprehensive strategy with regional governments for dealing with the LRA, including steps to protect the civilian population against LRA violence, provide humanitarian assistance in areas affected by it, and apprehend LRA leaders and disarm its followers, within six months.
“People have made every effort over the years to negotiate a solution to this conflict, but Kony remains bloody-minded,” according to John Norris of the anti-genocide Enough Project. “There has to be an apprehension strategy to bring an end to a conflict where an incredibly small number of LRA fighters continue to ruin an incredibly large number of people’s lives.”
It is not yet clear precisely what effect the legislation will have on the administration’s policy, which appears already committed to the same goals laid out in the bill and has already spent millions of dollars in providing trucks, fuel, contracted aircraft, and other “non-lethal” equipment to the Ugandan Army to help its efforts against the LRA.
The bill, however, urges the administration to spend up to 10 million dollars next year for dealing with the humanitarian impact of the LRA and any campaign against it, and another 10 million dollars each year over the next three to work for reconciliation in Uganda.
Africom officials interviewed recently by the New York Times said they have been impressed by recent successes by the Ugandans in tracking the LRA and that, in the last 18 months, Kampala’s army has killed or captured more than half of Kony’s men, including his top finance and communications officers.
Quoting sources on the ground, the Times reported that Kony appears to be circulating between the CAR and the Darfur region of Sudan, whose government has sometimes been accused of providing safe haven to the LRA, where Ugandan troops are unable to go.
Some activist groups here, however, are concerned that the new legislation, and notably Africom’s involvement, may yet prove counterproductive to any reconciliation between the government of President Yoweri Museveni and Kony’s Acholi minority.
“What is going on in Uganda is far more complicated than good guys versus bad guys,” according to Gerald LeMelle, head of Africa Action. “There’s a lot of history between the Acholi people and Museveni that needs to be addressed. And we’re worried about the temptation to resort to simple military solutions for more complicated problems.”
Similarly, the Mennonite Central Committee, which has a long history of humanitarian work in northern Uganda, also expressed concerns, noting in a recent article by two of its staff in the Congressional-insider newspaper “The Hill” that the new legislation “opens the door for Africom…to support military intervention aimed at the LRA”.
“Given the current realities of U.S. foreign policy, military mechanisms – including Africom – are privileged over diplomatic avenues or development efforts,” wrote Mary Stata and Wade George Snowdon.
“It is critical for Congress to ensure that the United States’ actions promote sustainable peace, reconciliation, development in the region, rather than further entrench conflict and insecurity.”
*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.
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