By Steve Paterno
September 11, 2011 — The recently released series of secret cables from US Consulate in Juba by whistleblower Wikileaks, made startling revelations on how the botched LRA Juba peace talk, mediated by Government of South Sudan was so flaw, uncoordinated, and perhaps was conducted under sinister motives.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal Ugandan rebel, made their debut into Sudan in 1993, courtesy of Riek Machar, the current South Sudan Vice President and the chief mediator of the said defunct peace talks. By then, Uganda was supporting the SPLM/A and in retaliation, the Islamic regime in Khartoum used both Riek Machar force along with the LRA as proxies to fight the SPLM/A as well.
When the SPLM/A and Khartoum signed the peace agreement in 2005, and the government of South Sudan was formed, the LRA presence in South Sudan was already well established. They even staked just within fifteen miles radius of Juba, the seat of government. The LRA then began to intensify its brutal activities of killing, raping, and looting in vicinity of Juba and throughout other parts of South Sudan.
These LRA raids instilled fear among the local population and heightened great security concerns within the US government such that the American took great interest on the issue. As one of the cables reveals, President Kiir’s response to the American official confirms what some observers confirmed all along: GOSS is reluctant and and even incapable to deal with the LRA menace. President Kiir started his response with excuse that since Khartoum’s elements were present in the South and could be supporting the LRA, therefore, South Sudan couldn’t do anything about it. President Kiir hoped that if all the Khartoum’s elements were to leave South, may be then something could be done.
To put this into perspective, Khartoum’s armed forces, with the exception of the contingent of JIU were since then withdrawn from South Sudan during the first half of interim period. More over, South Sudan has already obtained its full autonomy so as it protects its territorial integrity. However, one significant thing that has not changed yet is the fact that LRA are still causing havoc in South Sudan, with impunity.
As to the question of mediation role for LRA peace process, the President seemed oblivious and even opposed to the process. He even claimed to have no direct contact with the LRA, because his attempt to contact the LRA through Khartoum never materialized.. The President, however, acknowledged that he was briefed by his Vice President Riek Machar about a letter sent by LRA, requesting for peace mediation. Tragically, the President never seen that letter and didn’t believe that his VP, Riek Machar had direct contact with LRA leadership. Therefore, the whole botched Juba peace process seems to be Machar’s brainchild, where he solely manipulated the process—the theme, which has been running over and over in the series of these cables.
It must be noted that President Kiir, perhaps due to pressure, eventually issued a vague public ultimatum against the LRA, to either pursue peace, leave Sudan, or be confronted militarily. None of these options has either taken place, even with the attempted botched peace process.
For benefit of doubt, perhaps President Kiir and his officials do understand very well the lack of SPLA capability in dealing with LRA and that is why the government is reluctant to put the military option on the table. In one of the cables, UNMIS Commander James Ellery and his Aide
de Camp RPA Lt. Col. Jean Ngendahimana, issued a devastating rebuke against the SPLA and its dealing with the LRA and lack thereof. The UN officials rated the SPLA at the lowest point that even the LRA are more disciplined in their methods of attacks in comparison to the SPLA. Citing an incident that took place in Yampio, where LRA overran the SPLA, UNMIS Commander James Ellery contented that “had the local population joined in with whatever weapons were at hand, including spears, the small LRA force could have been rapidly annihilated.” At any rate, in that incident, the LRA had their field day as they always have, bulldozing their way through with sheer brutality.
If this is the accurate assessment of SPLA forces, then it is indeed troubling. The so much talk about SPLA reform and upgrade must be done so that it is able to defend the general population from marauding armed groups such as the LRA. Also, what is really needed to be put into considerations is the issue of support for the so-called Arrow Boys or Home Guard—the group, which have sprung up in areas affected by the LRA and fending for themselves. Otherwise, the situation is dire and will be so for longest time, jeopardizing the entire security of South Sudan nation.
As the cables revealed, VP Riek Machar involvement with the LRA in the peace process complicated the matter even more, just as some observers predicted. To his dismay, Machar had built a reputation, where he is not trusted by anyone. Though once allies, Joseph Kony, the leader of LRA never trusted him. That is why throughout this peace process, Machar was dealing with none LRA members, but yet, he was very adamant that he was conducting peace with the LRA.
The Ugandan government even trusted Kiir less, describing him as an old friend of Khartoum Islamic regime who may be up to no good. The cable reveals that the infamous video clip of Machar, offering LRA stash of cash to the LRA, which was widely broadcasted around the world, was in fact intentionally released by Uganda government in its effort to embarrass Machar. Machar did not expect the clip to get out.
The Americans were even harsher against Machar on this issue of LRA. One cable reads, “the wily Riek Machar cannot be trusted.” For example, Riek Machar was even willing to lie on the killing of Vincent Otti, the LRA second in command. Machar was claiming that he was in direct contact with Otti, way after Otti was killed and it was already a public knowledge. Anyway, the American had enough of Machar, when at a briefing with SPLM official Deng Alor, they discovered that Machar was divulging little information to the government about the LRA. Fair enough, the American acknowledges that the problem is a wider one, where there is less coordinations of activities or information among various GOSS departments or SPLM officials.
In conclusions, it will go down in history that the LRA menace is Riek Machar’s legacy, importing them into Sudan, and then exporting them into two more other countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. Machar acknowledges this legacy in one of the cables, where he claimed that LRA is now Congo’s problem. His words is reminisce of President of Uganda Yuweri Museveni who have long time ago declared that LRA is no more Uganda’s problem. The question then, what will those who the LRA are terrorizing have to say? Accept the terror as their problem?
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at email@example.com