Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 25 February 2004

Khartoum’s National Islamic Front: A Pattern of Evil


Ongoing Support for the Lord’s Resistance Army Is But Another Example

By Eric Reeves

Feb 24, 2004 — As the maniacal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of northern Uganda onceagain makes headlines on the international wires services with yet
another example of unspeakable barbarism, it is important to remember
that this brutal, heavily armed gang of thugs is directly supported,
supplied, and provided sanctuary by Khartoum’s National Islamic Front
regime. Indeed, this reality was recently highlighted in a lengthy
dispatch by the East Africa correspondent for the Washington Post
(February 16, 2004; dateline Pagak, northern Uganda). Filed several
days before the slaughter of more than 200 unarmed civilians in a camp
for internally displaced persons north of Lira (Uganda) on February 21,
2004, the Post dispatch quotes John Prendergast, Africa specialist for
the International Crisis Group:

"Sudan broke a promise made in late 2002 to stop supplying weapons to
the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to John Prendergast, an Africa
analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research
organization that monitors global conflicts. ’As yet, there is not
enough pressure to make any diplomatic opening possible [to end the LRA
insurgency],’ Prendergast said. ’The US will have to lean heavily on the
government of Sudan to cut off its support to the LRA and bring it to
the table to talk.’" (Washington Post, February 16, 2004)

But as Prendergast and informed US officials suggest, all evidence
indicates that Khartoum continues to provide weapons, uniforms,
vehicles, and critical sanctuary inside southern Sudan (especially in
and around Juba, Khartoum’s main garrison town in southern Sudan; see
below). This is part of Khartoum’s strategic effort to ensure that
Uganda does not provide any support for the Sudan People’s Liberation
Movement/Army (SPLM/A), even as Khartoum itself has dramatically
improved its own military arsenal and deployments in southern Sudan
during the 16 months since a "cessation of offensive hostilities
agreement" was signed with the SPLM/A on October 15, 2002---an agreement
which the NIF regime has repeatedly violated.

Khartoum must as a consequence be seen as directly complicit in the
civilian slaughter of February 21, 2004 (reported yesterday by the BBC,
Associated Press, Reuters, and other wire services). The Associated
Press, with a dateline from the Barlonyo Camp north of Lira that was
attacked, provides an especially authoritative account (excerpts from
the February 23, 2004 dispatch):

"[The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)] guerrillas fanned out---hacking,
shooting and burning alive more than 200 unarmed civilians, including
[Okao] Lujino’s wife and their five-year-old daughter.

"Lujino and other survivors gave horrific accounts today of the rebel
raid on Barlonyo camp, where the stench of burned flesh hung in the air
and huts smouldered two days after one of the worst rebel attacks of a
17-year-old insurgency. In the town of Lira, 24 kilometres south of the
camp, doctors treated dozens of wounded, some of whom writhed on the
ground in pain.

"’I heard dogs barking [ ] all of a sudden I looked back and saw many,
many rebels in uniform,’ Lujino said, as nurses dressed a bullet wound
to his thigh. ’When they saw me they stopped. One of them blew a
whistle. Then they started moving in a cow-horn shape around the camp.
Then they started firing.’

"Crawling on his knees, Lujino took cover behind a tree before fleeing
into the swamp as the rebels clashed with about 30 members of a local
defence force charged with protecting the camp, home to about 5,000
people. The defence force was quickly overwhelmed, and the rebels began
burning alive entire families as they cowered in their homes, witnesses
said. An Associated Press reporter saw six charred bodies today.

"[Ugandan] Legislator Charles Angiro said camp officials calculated
that 206 civilians had been massacred. Lujino, 42, said the rebels beat
his wife, covered her with grass and set her on fire. They took a
machete to his young daughter’s neck, he said, mortally wounding her.

"Today, the hospital in Lira was overflowing with wounded, including
two badly burned young boys who sat in silence as doctors pulled dead
skin from their bodies. ’When we tried to run outside the hut, they
would shoot you; when you remain inside, they burn you,’ said George
Okot, as he winced in pain from gunshot wounds to his leg.

"’This is a real massacre ... we appeal to the international community
to come in to intervene and to bring this carnage to an end ... The
government has tried its best, but it seems it has failed,’ Angiro said
while visiting the camp.

"Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan
condemned the attack, saying ’such a barbaric act’ could fall within the
jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

"The International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, announced
today it would investigate the attack, and Chief Prosecutor Luis
Moreno-Ocampo issued a statement promising ’those bearing the greatest
responsibility will be prosecuted.’" (Associated Press, February 24,

But if these are not to be empty words, then among "those bearing the
greatest responsibility" are the leaders of the National Islamic Front.
For little if anything has changed in the five months since there was a
flurry of reporting on Khartoum’s complicity in the savage depredations
of the LRA.

The BBC reported at the time on information that came from a key LRA

"The latest round of accusations [directed at Khartoum for its
complicity in the actions of the LRA] follows reports that the Ugandan
army received information from an LRA defector, David Oneka, about the
alleged supply of arms, including anti-tank missiles, by Sudan to the
rebels. Mr Oneka also claimed that he witnessed Mr Kony crossing into
Sudan accompanied by his wives and 600 rebel fighters." (BBC, August 26,

The (Kampala) Monitor gave further insight into the evidence that had
then recently been obtained by Uganda’s armed forces:

"The army spokesman, Maj. Shaban Bantariza, told The [Kampala] Monitor
yesterday that Sudanese generals meet monthly and regularly supply arms
to the LRA. ’We are getting information indicating how Sudanese
generals meet the LRA on the 15th of every month and supply them with
arms on the 28th of each month,’ Bantariza said.

"The army has benefited from fresh intelligence reports provided by an
LRA defector who handed himself over to the [Ugandan Defense Forces] at
the weekend. The defector fighter, David Oneka, claims that Kony knows
him personally, having been part of the rebel leader’s security detail
in Juba, southern Sudan. He said that Sudan is supplying heavy arms to
the LRA, including anti-tank destroyers. ’The B10 is what the LRA has
been using to attack our battle wagons. They used it last Friday in
Katakwi and injured three of our soldiers,’ Bantariza said." (The
[Kampala] Monitor, August 26, 2003)

There have for many years been other authoritative charges that
Khartoum’s forces are aiding the LRA. Especially significant was a June
2003 statement from the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative
(ARLPI), representing many of the people most deeply affected by LRA
attacks in northern Uganda. Notably, the ARLPI had been instrumental in
bringing the Ugandan government and the LRA together in the (now) failed
talks to end LRA terrorism by peaceful means. The ARLPI declared on
June 16, 2003:

"Senior officers of the LRA have been receiving a constant supply of
arms, ammunition and other items from SAF [Khartoum armed forces]
officers since the last months of 2002. This accounts for the fact that
in recent months violence has escalated to unprecedented levels in
Northern Uganda, with the civilian population bearing the brunt of the
rebel offensive."

The church leaders went on to say that "had the LRA remained short of
military supplies since last year, by now they would have been forced to
come to a negotiated settlement with the Ugandan Government that would
have made it possible to have peace in Northern Uganda."

Father Carlos Rodriguez Soto, a key figure in the ARLPI’s efforts to
bring about peace in northern Uganda through dialogue, told the UN’s
Integrated Regional Information Network last June that, "We always had
our suspicions when we kept seeing the LRA with new uniforms and new
guns. But we didn’t have enough to be sure. Now, with each independent
report coming from the bush saying the same thing, we know for a fact
that they [Khartoum’s military forces] are doing this." (UN Integrated
Regional Information Networks, June 19, 2003)

It should be said that the Ugandan army and the government of Yoweri
Museveni have received a good deal of appropriate criticism for their
handling of this longstanding insurgency in northern Uganda (it began in
1986), one that affects primarily the Acholi people (the politicization
of ethnicity in Uganda derives historically from the "divide and rule"
tactics of the colonial era). The Washington Post article of February
16, 2004 offers a fine overview (available at

But it is doubtful that the Ugandan armed forces of "Operation Iron
Fist" can prevail so long as Khartoum continues to provide both support
and sanctuary to the Lord’s Resistance Army. And evidence of Khartoum’s
ongoing support for the Lord’s Resistance Army is overwhelming (previous
reports on the issue from this source are available upon request). The
question is not whether the National Islamic Front regime is directly
complicit in the slaughter at Camp Barlonyo---this is beyond reasonable
doubt. The question is whether the words of the international community
mean anything.

If acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan
"condemns the attack," and further declares that "such a barbaric act"
falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, what
is he prepared to do to act upon such a determination? If Jan Egeland,
UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, believes that the
LRA’s war on civilians in northern Uganda and southern Sudan is a "moral
outrage" (Financial Times, February 24, 2004), what follows from this

If Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal
Court promises an investigation of the attack, and promises that "those
bearing the greatest responsibility will be prosecuted," we must ask
when the investigation will begin---and most critically, whether those
who support the perpetrators of such ongoing slaughter will be held
responsible. For if we believe Ugandan church leaders when they declare

"had the LRA remained short of military supplies since last year, by
now they would have been forced to come to a negotiated settlement with
the Ugandan Government that would have made it possible to have peace in
Northern Uganda" ---

then we cannot ignore the role of those in Khartoum who have
facilitated and provided these very military supplies.


Certainly if we are to render any larger moral assessment of the
Khartoum regime we must accept that there is nothing out of character in
its brutally expedient support for the LRA and its atrocities in
northern Uganda and southern Sudan. It is of a piece with the vast and
terrible cruelty that defines the policies and actions of the National
Islamic Front throughout Sudan. Amnesty International, in addition to
reporting on Khartoum’s overwhelming responsibility for civilian
destruction and suffering in Darfur, has recently highlighted the
case---all too typical---of Mahasin Abaker Fadul, a 15-year-old girl who
has been sentenced to 100 lashes for having sex outside marriage.

Sudan’s version of Islamic law (shari’a) is distinguished, at the
behest of the National Islamic Front, by a notoriously brutal penal code
(hudud). The regime’s ideological vision of "justice" ensures that
Mahasin Abaker, who was just 14 years old and nine months pregnant when
she was sentenced to 100 lashes at a court in Nyala, will endure a
punishment that Amnesty International has rightly described as
"degrading" and a "violation of basic human rights law" (Amnesty
International release [London], February 18, 2004). The young woman has
no remaining legal recourse, and having delivered her baby, simply
awaits punishment. Depending on how the 100 lashes are administered,
the punishment may be fatal.

This, too, is part of the pattern of evil that is embodied in the
National Islamic Front.

A more comprehensive assessment of such evil must take full stock of
the growing spectacle of massive, deliberate human destruction in
Darfur, destruction that is overwhelmingly of the various African tribal
groups in this far western region. For Khartoum shows no signs of
allowing an appropriate international humanitarian response---gives no
sign that it is willing to permit humanitarian access to the 1 million
displaced persons and the more than 3 million now described by the UN as
"war-affected." This is true even as the international community gives
no sign of readying a humanitarian intervention, despite understanding
full well the cause and urgency of the vast catastrophe.

Just yesterday both Reuters and the BBC reported on the findings of a
European Union (EU) assessment mission to Darfur. Under a heading
entitled "Systematic Denial," the BBC reports the comments of Richard
Howitt, a British member of the EU delegation:

"Richard Howitt, said only 15% of the victims of the war have access to
humanitarian aid in the region.

"’There is direct evidence that military confrontation is continuing.
The Islamist militia, the Janjaweed, supported by the government are
running riot in most of the countryside,’ Mr Howitt said.

"’There has been a systematic pattern of denial of travel to aid
agencies and journalists by military intelligence to Darfur in western
Sudan,’ [Howitt] said." (BBC, February 23, 2004)

Reuters (dateline Khartoum) also reported yesterday on this assessment
mission to Darfur:

"[Richard] Howitt said the humanitarian situation in Darfur was a ’deep
and dismal disaster’ and accused the Sudanese government of preventing
journalists from going to the region to ’hide this conflict from the

"Khartoum denies supporting the Janjaweed, but Howitt said: ’Everybody
knows the Janjaweed are working on behalf of the government which
supplies them their guns and uniform and are recruited by senior
government officials.’" (Reuters, February 23, 2004)

To be sure, it has been clear for much too long that Khartoum has been
systematically denying humanitarian access for transparently military
purposes, and ultimately for purposes of civilian destruction. And the
complete restriction imposed on news reporters attempting to travel to
Darfur is also not new. But if we retain any moral bearings in
assessing what this means, and if we are honest about the pervasive
racial and ethnic animus that informs Khartoum’s "systematic" actions,
then a conclusion of genocide is inevitable. Moreover, if we look at
the rapidly expanding "concentration camps" that Khartoum is
deliberately engineering for the displaced, then we will have a yet
clearer understanding of the means by which this regime is now
accelerating its military campaign.

And if we still doubt that what is happening in Darfur is genocide, if
our agnosticism persists, then we must answer to those voices that have
reached Chad and have conveyed the horror of what they have seen in
Darfur---those voices that tell us all too clearly of Khartoum’s pattern
of evil, of the very face of human evil:

"Tamur Bura Idriss, 31, said he lost his uncle and grandfather. He
heard the gunmen say, ’You blacks, we’re going to exterminate you.’ He
fled deeper into Chad that night." (The New York Times [dateline: Tine,
Chad/Darfur] January 17, 2004)

"’It is terrible, they are slaughtering us,’’ schoolteacher Ishmael
Haggar, 30, said in broken English. ’I need to tell somebody.’’
(Associated Press, January 26, 2004)

"’I believe this is an elimination of the black race,’ one tribal
leader told IRIN (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
al-Geneina [Darfur], December 11, 2003)

"According to an eyewitness, the militia accompanied by soldiers
attacked people, saying ’You are opponents to the regime, we must crush
you. As you are black, you are like slaves. Then the entire Darfur
region will be in the hands of the Arabs. The government is on our side.
The government plane is on our side, it gives us ammunitions and food."
(Amnesty International Report on Darfur ["Too Many People Killed for No
Reason"], London, February 3, 2004, page 12)

"A refugee farmer from the village of Kishkish reported to Amnesty
International delegates the words used by the militia: ’You are Black
and you are opponents. You are our slaves, the Darfur region is in our
hands and you are our herders.’ They also reportedly said: ’You are
slaves, we will kill you. You are like dust, we will crush you.’ Another
civilian attacked was reportedly told: ’You are in the fields, the rest
is for our horses. We have the government on our right side, you are on
the left side. You have nothing for yourselves.’" (Amnesty International
Report, page 28)

"A civilian from Jafal confirmed this when he was reportedly told by
the Janjawid: ’You are opponents to the regime, we must crush you. As
you are Black, you are like slaves. Then all the Darfur region will be
in our hands. The government is on our side. The government plane is
on our side to give us ammunition and food.’" (Amnesty International
Report, page 28)

"A local chief in the Abu Gamra area, between Tina and Kornoy, painted
the extent of the destruction in his village: ’The Arabs and the
government forces arrived on both sides of the village, with vehicles,
on horseback and on camels, and armed with big weapons. The Arabs
cordoned the village with more than 1,000 horses. There was also a
helicopter and an Antonov plane. They shelled the town with more than
200 shells. We counted 119 persons who were killed by the shelling. Then
the Arabs burnt all our houses, took all the goods from the market. A
bulldozer destroyed houses. Cars belonging to the merchants were burnt
and generators were stolen. They said they wanted to conquer the whole
territory and that the Blacks did not have a right to remain in the
region.’" (Amnesty International Report, page 20)

As Khartoum simultaneously claims "progress" at the peace talks in
Naivasha and yet gives free rein to its Arab "janjaweed" militia allies
in Darfur, these voices tell us all too much about the regime’s views of
African lives, whether in Darfur, southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains,
Southern Blue Nile, or the Beja area of eastern Sudan.

Let us at least be honest, if collectively irresolute, in examining the
nature of the National Islamic Front. Let us speak without euphemism or
self-deception in characterizing the regime that is diplomatically
"engaged" in Naivasha. For if we will only look clearly, we must see
that the ghastly and brutal depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army
are directly supported by this regime. If we are not constrained by
intellectually enfeebled notions of "cultural relativism," then there
can be no room for indifference in understanding what it means for this
regime to countenance the sentencing of a 15-year-old girl to 100 lashes
for the "crime" of having sex outside marriage. And if we will only
hear the voices from Darfur, and if we are not morally stone deaf, then
we must pose the most awful of questions: how can it be that the world
is once again failing to respond to the evil that is genocide?

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063
- Tel : 413-585-3326, ereeves@smith.edu

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