LRA in the Spotlight, as African Union Considers New Joint Effort

 

In an uncommon show of interest, the U.N. Security Council held a private meeting late last week to discuss the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. It was the first time in nearly two years that the Council discussed the LRA as a stand-alone issue in an official meeting. The permanent observer of the African Union to the U.N., Ambassador Téte António, and the permanent representatives of Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic attended the meeting. Ambassador António updated the Security Council about the proposed A.U. initiative on the LRA.

The press statement issued post-meeting contains the usual sweeping diplomatic demands – “an end to all attacks on civilians by the LRA, (…) all LRA elements to surrender and disarm” – that are unlikely to be fulfilled. But importantly, the statement emphasized the need for coordination among the regional governments, which is particularly necessary given that intra-regional tensions are one of the key shortcomings of current efforts to apprehend LRA leaders and protect civilians. The Security Council also recalled the International Criminal Court’s outstanding arrest warrants for LRA leaders, including Joseph Kony, and encouraged states to cooperate in implementing the warrants.

The press statement welcomed the A.U. initiative on the LRA, which aims to strengthen military operations against the group, civilian protection, and DDRRR (demobilization, disarmament, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration). A.U. Ambassador António reportedly told the Security Council that the A.U. will submit a report to the organization’s Peace and Security Council in August and is expecting a decision on the proposal at the end of the year.

The Security Council requested that the U.N. Office for Central Africa, located in Libreville, Gabon, engage with the A.U. and facilitate cooperation between the two organizations on issues related to ending the LRA crisis. The council also requested that U.N. Secretary-General Ban keep them informed on developments regarding the LRA, including submitting a report on the LRA threat as well as related regional and U.N. efforts in October.

The details of the proposed initiative are still being worked out at A.U. headquarters in Ethiopia, but broadly, it would create an “A.U. authorized mission” and include four main components: 1) a Regional Task Force, or RTF, consisting of the four regional armies; 2) an A.U. special envoy for the LRA; 3) a RTF headquarters which would house a joint operations center; and 4) a joint coordination mechanism, responsible for coordinating efforts between the AU, the regional governments, and partners.

It is not clear in what ways and to what extent the A.U. proposal, if authorized by the Peace and Security Council, will change the current military operations and other efforts. It could help address intra-regional tensions and improve communication between the regional governments. The A.U. LRA special envoy in particular may also help improve communication and coordination between the governments and the U.N. on apprehension, civilian protection, DDRRR, and humanitarian assistance.

The Security Council may take up the LRA issue again in November, when Portugal, which has expressed interest in addressing the LRA, takes its turn as the body’s president.

U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman recently spoke about the ongoing LRA threat in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Sudan and South Sudan on July 15:

Many [people in South Sudan] also remain vulnerable to the activity of armed militias in the border states of Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile to the North, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the state of Equatoria regions to the south. The United States has provided significant support for South Sudan over the years, and we will remain a steadfast partner as South Sudan seeks to peacefully meet these challenges.

Meanwhile, regular reports of LRA attacks documented by local and international media underscore the need for high-level attention. In particular, Radio Miraya recently reported an attack by the LRA in Raga County in South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state, which borders Sudan’s South Darfur state. LRA activity near Darfur could signal possible attempts by the group to seek financial or material support from Khartoum. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army accused the LRA of abducting six people. According to U.N. OCHA, the LRA carried out another attack in Raga County between the months of January and March this year, while no LRA attacks occurred there last year. Enough has not yet been able to confirm where in Raga County the recent attack occurred.

Photo: U.N. Security Council chamber (AP)

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