Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ugandan rebels attack eastern Congo

Last week, the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] attacked three villages in the eastern province of Congo, on the border with southern Sudan: Duru, Kiliwa, and Nambia. In the event, hundreds of houses were burned and destroyed.

According to UNICEF (the UN Children’s Fund), the guerrillas have kidnapped nearly 90 children. “From the reports we have that can be confirmed, about 90-100 children have been kidnapped from the various local schools,” Fr. Pescantini said. The missionaries were able to flee the area and reach the border with Sudan, along with part of the population. They sought refuge in Yambio, thanks to the generosity of Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala, Bishop of Tombura-Yambio.

“This is yet another sad chapter in the iniquity this group carries out,” Fr. Pescantini said. “In spite of the efforts and talks that have taken place in recent years, the LRA leaders always find some excuse not to sign a peace agreement. I’m afraid that now they have grown accustomed to living in the forest and living off of the people, taking the little they have, and kidnapping their children.”

The LRA has dominated northern Uganda for over 20 years, hiding out in the forest of southern Sudan. For sometime now, they have extended their “playing field” to include the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their activity is always the same, attacking defenseless villages, looting and killing the local population and finally, they take refuge in the forest, taking with them the children they kidnap and who are forced to serve in their ranks. It is a crime for which the International Crime Court has issued an arrest warrant for the LRA leaders.

In order to end the LRA’s violence (as they are now a regional problem), the government in southern Sudan in 2006 began a complex and difficult negotiation process, that after a series of preliminary accords, was to lead to the signing of a peace agreement on April 10 between the Ugandan government and the LRA leaders. However, at the last minute, LRA leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the agreement.

The government in Kampala has since begun an offensive military operation, in cooperation with the army in southern Sudan, Congo, and the MONUC (UN operation in Congo), in order to hunt down the guerrillas.