Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 27 December 2004

Suffer the Little Children


The Wall Street Journal

Dec 23, 2004 — On this Christmas Eve like every other, there will not be peace on all the Earth. That’s especially true in a forgotten corner of East Africa, where thousands of children have been abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army, run by a Ugandan fanatic who calls himself a Christian.

Joseph Kony declared war in 1986 after Uganda’s current President, Yoweri Museveni, took power; his Lord’s Resistance Army vowed to overthrow Mr. Museveni. According to Human Rights Watch, the LRA has abducted up to 20,000 children over the course of the war. These children, some as young as five years old, are forced to carry out raids, burn houses and kill and torture civilians, sometimes even members of their own family.

"By forcing them to commit these atrocities, the LRA wants to prevent them from ever being able to return to their community. This ensures total control over the children who feel ashamed for what they’ve done," Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch told us. Girls are routinely abducted to serve as sex slaves.

The LRA has a partner in its perfidy: Sudan , whose regime is guilty of killing two million of its own people, Christian and animist, in the south and is now responsible for the deaths or displacement of thousands of Muslims in the western district of Darfur.

The alliance between the LRA and Sudan is a match made in hell. The LRA has received weapons, equipment and training from Khartoum and uses southern Sudan as its safe haven and headquarters. Some 1.6 million people are internally displaced as a result of the LRA’s brutal campaign.

That the radical Islamic regime in Khartoum would align itself with a movement like the LRA, which professes to be Christian, might appear odd. But Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who just returned from the region, says there is no real contradiction. "The LRA is as Christian as the Ku Klux Klan," he told us. Mr. Kony seems to mix Christian, Islamic and even pagan witchcraft for his pseudo-religious ideology.

With up to 80% of the LRA composed of child soldiers, the Ugandan government is faced with a terrible moral dilemma, as fighting the LRA means probably killing abducted children. Universal amnesty has proven quite effective in encouraging child soldiers to defect, even though the risks are great. Those caught by the LRA are brutally murdered.

Sudan of late seems to have scaled back its support for the LRA, which probably contributed to Mr. Kony’s decision to agree to a recent cease-fire. But the LRA has used similar deals in the past simply to regroup its forces in Sudan , where it can still operate freely. To hasten a conclusion of this long war, Senator Brownback suggests that Washington should answer Uganda’s request for military helicopters.

The U.S. government has long been pushing for the United Nations to get tough with Sudan to stop the killing in Darfur. Such decisive action would also make Khartoum probably think twice about exporting ethnic cleansing to neighboring countries. But veto-wielding Russia and China, who have growing business interests in Sudan , are blocking these efforts.

With the U.N. Security Council paralyzed, it might be time for Washington to consider a new "coalition of the willing" that is prepared to impose sanctions on Sudan , freeze regime assets abroad and help equip African forces that could actually defend civilians in Darfur and not just "monitor" the situation. Such pressure might also help persuade Khartoum to end its support for the LRA and expel its forces from southern Sudan . Maybe next Christmas.

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