Tensions Rise as Rumors Spread: Is Kony in Darfur?

 

Allegations have recently emerged that Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, is in the Darfur region of Sudan and receiving support from the Sudanese government. These rumors have sparked threats of military intervention by Uganda, which could escalate the existing low-level border conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.

Two weeks ago, reports began surfacing that Kony and his group were moving towards or already in Darfur. The first report came on April 23 from the Darfuri rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Minawi, or SLM-MM, which claimed that Kony and the LRA are in Darfur. The following week, on April 30, Ugandan army spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye said there is intelligence indicating that the LRA is moving into Sudan because the Ugandan forces are not permitted to pursue him there. Intelligence from a recently repatriated LRA “wife” also indicated that Kony was and could still be in Darfur.

That same day, however, AFP reported that Aronda Nyakairima, Chief of the Uganda People's Defense Force, or UPDF, obtained information from a former LRA member that Kony is in Western Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan—specifically, where the borders of South Sudan, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, or CAR, meet.

Adding to the mix of speculations on Kony’s whereabouts, on April 29, Col. Joseph Balikudembe, the commander leading UPDF forces in pursuit of the LRA, reportedly told journalists that Kony is hibernating in Djema, CAR—approximately 200 miles from the Sudanese border. The New York Times echoed this belief, reporting on April 30 that U.S. officials think Kony is still in CAR.

During a recent trip to CAR, the Enough Project spoke with UPDF officers who said Kony was very close to Darfur, whereas U.S. officials told Enough they thought Kony was in CAR, probably north of Djema. None of these conflicting allegations have yet been verified. However, in early March two LRA attacks took place in northeastern CAR not far from the Sudanese border, perhaps indicating that Kony was heading to Darfur.

Meanwhile, a joint African Union-U.N. mission, including the A.U. Special Envoy on the LRA, traveled to Chad to meet with President Idriss Déby to warn him that the LRA may seek refuge in Chad, and to urge him to take preventive measures. The A.U.-U.N. team has indicated its plans to make a similar visit to Sudan.

Furthermore, Ugandan President Museveni, the armies of Uganda and South Sudan, and the SLM-MM have claimed that not only is Kony in or near Darfur, but the Sudanese government has also resumed its support for the LRA. During Sudan’s civil war, Khartoum provided safe haven, arms, and other support to the LRA, while Kampala supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA.

Col. Kulayigye claims that Khartoum is again arming the LRA. “The report we have is that they are being supplied with arms, food and uniform,” he said.  On the contrary, UPDF Chief Nyakairima said that although intelligence suggests that the LRA is “again in contact with Khartoum,” the army has no concrete proof of resumed support.

Philip Aguer, spokesperson of South Sudan’s army, the SPLA, claimed that Khartoum is supporting the LRA to attack SPLA positions along the South Sudan-Sudan border. According to Radio Dabanga, the SLM-MM alleged that Kony is moving around the Mukjar area in South Darfur under the full supervision of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. Reportedly, the official spokesperson of the government in South Darfur denied these claims.  

Sudan's ambassador to London, Abdullahi al-Azreg, stated that the allegations are “a big lie.” “We are not helping and we will not help [Kony],” Ambassador al-Azreg said. “He's a criminal.”

If Sudan is supporting the LRA, Uganda’s President Museveni and the Ugandan army have threatened military intervention in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. According to the BBC, Uganda’s military chief suggested that it would intervene if fighting between the two Sudans escalated into full-scale war. He said:

We will not sit by and do nothing. We will be involved having suffered a proxy war by Khartoum. Our people in northern Uganda suffered and intelligence information also indicates that the LRA, who have an estimated 200 guns, are again in contact with Khartoum.

Notably, a UPDF spokesperson said that diplomacy would first be exhausted before Uganda decides to intervene militarily.

President Museveni, according to the Sudan Tribune, threatened to defeat Sudan if the allegations of LRA support are true. “Whatever arms Sudan gives Kony, we shall still defeat him,” Museveni stated. “If it is true, then they must stop. We have an obligation to maintain peace and stability in Uganda and any country trying to destabilize us will not be spared.” Museveni also cited intelligence suggesting that the LRA has been regrouping and planning to conduct a major offensive in Uganda.

Efforts to de-escalate the rising tensions between Uganda and Sudan appear to be underway, but it is unclear how effective they will be. Both governments have reportedly agreed to put together a team to discuss the allegations, and a Sudanese parliamentary delegation recently traveled to Uganda in hopes of defusing tensions between the two countries.

The need for de-escalation is indeed dire. Should Khartoum resume support for the LRA or should Uganda intervene militarily, the security situation in the region could greatly deteriorate. In addition, if the LRA is in fact in Sudan again, this could create an enormous obstacle for the U.S. military advisors’ mission and the A.U. initiative’s Regional Task Force. There are already major challenges of access to areas where the LRA operates in Congo, as well as in some areas of CAR.

Photo: Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (Associated Press).