April 30, 2012 (LONDON) - The Sudanese government is providing support to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) an insurgency that originated in northern Uganda but now operates in South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Ugandan military.
- An armed fighter of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) stands guard in 2006 in Ri-Kwamba, southern Sudan. (file/AFP)
Sudan has denied the allegation, which is the latest in a string of statements from South Sudan’s neighbour against the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, a frequent critic of Khartoum, told an event in Ethiopia April 16 that Sudan’s attitude to ethnicity, culture and religion was the prime example of how not to manage diversity in Africa.
On April 20, South Sudan welcomed the announcement made by the chief of Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), Aronda Nyakairima, that Uganda would intervene if the current border conflict between Juba and Khartoum escalates into a full-scale war.
Khartoum responded on April 21 by accusing Kampala of issuing passports to senior officials from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), an armed group who have been fighting the government in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile since last year. Kampala denied the allegation.
During the two-decade Sudanese civil war, which ended in 2005 with a peace deal granting South Sudan the right to seceded last year, Uganda sided with the SPLM rebels who now form the government in Juba.
In response, Khartoum is widely accused of backing the LRA, which began operating in South Sudan and elsewhere in Central Africa having been forced out of northern Uganda by the UPDF.
The LRA was founded by Joseph Kony in his Acholi community amid repression from the UPDF. Its stated aim is to overthrow the government in Kampala and install the Bible’s Ten Commandments.
Across Uganda, CAR, DRC and South Sudan the LRA is accused of massive human rights abuses including rape, mutilation, murder and the recruitment of child soldiers.
However, the group is believed to only have a few hundred soldier’s left due to desertions and combined regional attempts - recently backed by United States army advisors and African Union troops - to end the conflict militarily.
Uganda’s accusations come as tensions between Sudan and South Sudan remain extremely high, with the conflict along their disputed oil-rich border passing the one month mark.
Sudan’s president has said that the SPLM government must be overthrown, describing them as "insects" that must be crushed.
Such rhetoric may simply be playing to his right-wing support-base but are symptomatic of the depths to which relations have fallen less than 10 months after South Sudan’s independence.
Juba already accuses the Sudan Armed Forces of supporting and fighting alongside Southern "mercenaries" along the border and supporting rebellions in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states. Khartoum denies this and maintains that the SPLM in Juba has not severed its ties with the SPLM-N north of the border.
During the six year period of Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the SPLM and Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), allegations of Khartoum’s backing of the LRA decreased out but have reemerged now hostilities have resumed.
Ugandan army spokesman Col Felix Kulayigye told the BBC Monday that its intelligence indicated that the LRA was now moving into Sudan’s Darfur region from the Central African Republic (CAR), including areas controlled by pro-government militia the Janjaweed.
"Kony knows we can’t enter that region, so when the pressure is high in Central Africa he crosses into the Sudanese border [areas]," Kulayigye said.
The Ugandan army colonel told the BBC that the UPDF had captured a LRA soldier wearing a uniform from the Sudan Armed Forces. He also alleged that his weapons and ammunition were the same as those carried by SAF personnel.
Sudan’s ambassador to the UK, Abdullahi al-Azreg, told the BBC that Uganda’s accusations were a "big lie".
"We are not helping and we will not help [Joseph Kony]. He’s a criminal," he said.
The LRA has split into small groups that rarely use electronic communications and operate across a huge area of Central Africa, often in dense bush and forests that make them hard to track.
To survive the LRA raids villages for supplies and abduct young men to become fighters and young girls to become sex slaves.
The African Union announced in March that it was setting up a 5,000-strong force to hunt Kony and what remains of his group. The regional armies pursuing the elusive rebel leader are also being assisted by 100 US special forces working from four bases across Central Africa.
Since peace talks held in Juba broke down in 2008 - due to LRA fears that Kony and the group’s leadership could not be granted immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court - the international community has opted to adopt a military rather than negotiated resolution for the two-decade long conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Some analysts interpret the Juba peace talks as just a means to buy time on the part of the LRA to regroup and that Kony was never serious about signing a deal.