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A National Gathering of the Next Generation of Human Rights Defenders
The Ugandan army, or UPDF, earlier this month had a major confrontation with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA. Acting on a tip the army received about the LRA’s whereabouts in the Central African Republic, the UPDF encountered a small group of rebels approximately 175 miles north of Djema, which led to a firefight leaving Binansio “Binany” Okumu—a former bodyguard of Kony and LRA commander based in Congo—dead.
The location of the reported firefight is significant in that it could provide clues about where Kony is currently hiding. According to reports, the fight took place hundreds of miles from Binany’s “post” and, according to Enough sources, he had just met with Kony and was on his way back to Congo. The location of the encounter suggests that Kony may still be hiding in or near the Kafia Kingi enclave on the disputed Sudan-South Sudan border.
Research conducted by the Enough Project in 2010 indicated that Binany was a brutal commander who was notorious for killing most of the civilians he encountered. At that time a lieutenant colonel in the LRA, the unit Binany led reportedly mutilated its victims and was responsible for perpetrating horrific massacres in the area northwest of Dungu in Congo. (See also the Human Rights Watch report about the Christmas massacres of December 2009, which Binany is thought to have commanded along with at least one other LRA commander). Until recently, Binany had been operating in the Haut-Uélé district of Congo, near Garamba National Park.
This latest major confrontation between the UPDF and the LRA could indicate that the gathering of intelligence about the LRA is improving, with the help of the U.S. military advisors that President Obama deployed to Central and East Africa in late 2011.
“Every day we are closing in on Kony and when you have such an encounter with his former bodyguard, it is a very strong sign and encouragement that success is in our grasp," Ugandan Colonel Dick Olum, who commands a regional task force pursuing the LRA, told Reuters.
As Enough has reported, intelligence gathering about the LRA has been insufficient. These efforts have lagged for several reasons, including an inadequate number of troops deployed in the vast area where the LRA operates, the inability of those troops to access places that have consequently become safe havens for the LRA, and the inability of existing aerial intelligence resources to see through the dense forest canopy. In fact, the UPDF noted they did not know it was Binany’s group that they had tracked down.
The Enough Project has advocated vigorously for the governments of LRA-affected countries to arrest top commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court, so they can be held accountable for the atrocities they have committed against civilians. Enough has also urged that there be robust initiatives to encourage all other commanders and rank-and-file fighters to defect. We continue to advocate for enhanced intelligence, more troops, access to LRA safe havens, and expanded efforts to promote defections in order to ensure success in ending the LRA conflict and restoring peace to the region.
Photo: A man operates the "Come Home" radio program to encourage LRA defections in the Central African Republic (Enough / Kasper Agger)