Fears of a new offensive by the LRA, following reported attacks in South Sudan and Eastern DRC, are likely to turn the spotlight on Northern Uganda’s stalled peace talks and the failure of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan to implement a regional military program to flush out the rebels.
The attacks which have been reported by religious authorities as well as the Government of South Sudan carry the signature brutality of the group which has been encamped in north western DRC since the end of 2005.
It’s unclear what sparked the latest wave of violence by the group. Usually reliable sources say the Congolese national army as well as United Nations peace keepers have deployed in the area, another sign that the situation has deteriorated.
This week the most senior United States legislator on Africa, Senator Russell Feingold appealed to US President George Bush to expedite a solution to the LRA problem saying peace talks have failed and urging the Washington to devote more diplomatic and other resources to the problem.
“Rather than intensify efforts to engage and pressure Kony to accept the agreement, the United States and others have downscaled our efforts” Feingold says adding that “without expanded resources and capacity focused on this problem, a completely new offensive runs a high risk of exacerbating the regions volatility”.
The Senator recommends more coordination between donor agencies and asks the US government to convene a high-level donor conference to focus on the rebuilding of the north- an idea favored by Tim Shortley, the senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazer.
Mr. Shortley was personally present at the conclusion of the unsigned peace deal.
Talks with the rebels, whose leaders are still being sought for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, have hit a snag.
The return of violence and intransigence of the LRA however make the argument for dialogue a difficult one to sell and often shows how removed from the realities diplomatic pressure is.
“The current violence impacts negatively on our struggle to conclude the Northern Uganda conflict rapidly and peacefully” said Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, who is head of the government negotiating inside and also internal affairs minister.
The latest effort by Acholi leaders to revive the talks only promises to continue the dialogue according to a joint statement they released on Thursday, together with the chief mediator, Dr Riek Machar and the LRA representative, Dr Nyekorach Matsanga.
The rebels had earlier given UN Special Envoy Joachim Chissano a cold shoulder refusing to honor a meeting with him this month.
In a desperate letter from the Catholic Diocese in Dungu written by its head, one father Benoit Kinalegu, the clergy say LRA attacks have been reported in Duru, Nambia and Kiliwa. They say the attacks local leaders or chiefs while LRA combatants raided and abducted 50 young boys and girls.
Father Kilanegu says on Thursday local reports in Duru and Nambia say LRA had kidnapped its local chiefs while a major assault on a market in Kiliwa led to the razing down of the houses and abduction of 50 young people.
“They began ransacking in the market, burn down houses, schoolrooms” the letter says explaining that LRA combatants had earlier approached locals pretending that they wanted to give up their weapons but burst into violence after receiving instructions on their satellite phones.
“A woman was hurt in the back by a machete when she wanted to take her child of the hands of the attackers” said the Diocesan report, in French, an English translation of which has been obtained by Sunday Monitor.
Other sources say the LRA attacks on Congolese are attributable to the souring of relations with local communities who are resisting the rebel presence because of the brutality of the group which has been known to rape local girls and intimidate authorities.
Worse news was reported Friday by another priest Abbot André WALIA who said the entire population of Dungu was on the run after LRA ransacked the town and surrounding areas, adducting secondary students and forcing the local Comboni missionaries to flee to the forest after their church was vandalized and set on fire.
“Yesterday [Thursday] we had information of two dead bodies lying on the soil but this morning our sources say there are three” the clergy man said appealing to the area authorities and the Kinshasa government to intervene.
Meanwhile the Sudan People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] have confirmed that one of its soldiers was killed and others injured by suspected LRA rebels in Sakure, a village in Eastern Equatoria, the latest of such attacks by the increasingly restive rebels.
The South Sudan army says the attack of the LRA had been repulsed and that it had given chase to the rebels within Congolese territory. The increasingly tenuous security situation will cast a wide shadow over the normalization of life in the North especially in light of the incomplete peace process which begun promisingly in July 2006 but has since then lost steam after failure to get the rebels to sign.