The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group is under pressure to maintain or boost its force currently estimated at 500 combatants, according to a latest report by The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, a civil society organisation.
The report names Kidega Murefu and Otto Ladeere as the only LRA commanders directly in contact with the rebel leader Joseph Kony in Central African Republic and South Sudan. It adds that other commanders such as Okot Odhiambo, Achellam Smart also known both as Sasa and Ojara, together with Onencan Aciro Kop aka Angola Unita, were in unknown locations with speculation that Achellam Smart could have been killed in combat with UPDF.
The report says that pressure from Ugandan military operations against the LRA in Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has contributed to the reducing number of the force as well as breakdown of morale and discipline within the ranks of LRA combatants.
It however adds that the operations are not about to effectively dismantle the rebel group any time soon. The report explains that the operation against the LRA, which was launched in December 2008 with significant support from the US government, has been unable to effectively end the war and offer protection to civilian population. It attributes the failures to the current suspension on UPDF operations in CAR as well as the restriction on the Ugandan army to operate in the DRC.
The report also alleged that the Uganda government was delaying the return of Ugandan combatants who leave the LRA and was forcing them to join the UPDF, an act it asked the government to refrain from.
However, the report added that LRA groups are scattered, following defections of at least 31 Ugandan LRA combatants from 2012 to June 2013. The report commissioned by Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative adds that of the estimated 500 LRA rebels presently, about 250 are combatants, including up to 200 Ugandans and 50 low-ranking fighters abducted primarily from ethnic Zande communities in CAR, Congo, and South Sudan.
The report suggested that the Ugandan government should publicly announce if any senior LRA commanders will be held liable for crimes committed, and ensures all other returning members of the LRA are granted amnesty upon returning to Uganda. Presently, there are some former LRA commanders including Thomas Kwoyelo in government custody whose fate remains uncertain.
It also called for adequate funding towards rehabilitation programs for former combatants and communities in northern Uganda affected by the conflict. Additionally, the report suggested full funding to the Amnesty Commission’s operations and resettlement activities. Officials at the commission have always complained of inadequate funding and for a year its mandate to facilitate pardon to the former rebels was affected after government declined to renew the Amnesty Act Part 2 that governs forgiveness to former rebels.
The organisation say the information contained in the report was collected from a variety of sources, including first hand interviews with 22 former members of the LRA, civil society leaders and aid workers in LRA-affected areas. It also quotes representatives from the United Nations, African Union, donor countries and regional governments and military forces.
It says most interviews took place in March and April 2013 during trips to Obo in CAR, South Sudan, DRC, Gulu and Kampala in Uganda. The LRA rebels led by Joseph Kony began operating in northern Uganda since the mid 1980s. In 2006, the rebels fled into neighbouring DRC, South Sudan and CAR where they continue to commit atrocities against the civilian population.