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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
The news that Enough broke yesterday of a contingent of the Lord Resistance Army moving into Darfur generated considerable interest from a variety of regional actors.
Some of the reactions, while predictable, were interesting for simply being over the top. An LRA spokesman in Nairobi said the LRA “would like to dismiss this baseless report with all the contempt it deserves” – which makes one wonder why the spokesman can't muster a bit of contempt for his own organization’s long track record of committing war crimes. Colonel Michael Anywar and Justine Labeja, representatives of the LRA’s political wing in the Kenyan capital, claimed that the Sudanese government stopped supporting the LRA in 2002. Both LRA officials quoted from Nairobi participated in the most recent round of peace talks in 2006, but it is unclear how closely they are linked to the fighters in the field.
The Ugandan president weighed in on the news today in a press conference in Kampala. He said he received reports from the Ugandan army a month ago saying that the LRA’s messianic leader, Joseph Kony, had “disappeared” and that the group he travels with crossed over the border from the Central African Republic to Darfur. After pushing the LRA out of northern Uganda, the Ugandan army received authorization from the governments of Congo, southern Sudan, and CAR to track the LRA in their territory.
President Museveni also seized the opportunity to point out that the Sudanese government – a longtime adversary with whom Uganda shares a history of providing safe haven to each other’s rebel groups – has been a patron of the LRA in the past. If Khartoum provides a cover for Kony in Darfur, “it makes no difference because they supported him much more in the past,” Museveni said. “But whatever they gave him, we captured." The fact that the Ugandan president has accused the LRA of moving into Darfur would seem to ensure that this story will continue to play out for some time.
The response from Sudan came from the government’s representative at the United Nations, the outgoing Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem, who, it must be noted, doesn’t tend toward bland, diplomatic statements. The ambassador blasted Enough, saying that the report was meant to derail the “peace train” for Darfur, currently making a stopover in Doha. As a note to the outgoing ambassador, the peace train rhetoric and LRA denials might be a little more believable if the Government of Sudan hadn't long lied about its previous support to the LRA and wasn't currently engaged in attacks in Darfur that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks.
Coincidentally, news of the LRA in Darfur occurred a day after the U.S. Senate passed legislation calling for the Obama administration to devise a strategy for militarily defeating the LRA. That job just got more complicated now that it appears Kony and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, both wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, have once again teamed up.
To date, U.S. officials have insisted simply that they can neither confirm nor deny the LRA presence in Darfur. Here is hoping that Congressional leaders can push for an answer that is considerably more forthcoming than that.