“We are being exterminated by the LRA and from hunger,” said a resident of Bangadi, a small town in northeastern Congo, speaking to Enough researcher Ledio Cakaj. In a new two-part dispatch, Ledio reports on his recent trip to the Haut Uele region of Congo, an area that has recently fallen victim to reoccurring attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Part I focuses on the alarming resurgence of brutal tactics meant to terrorize the local population, rather than the more recent trend of attacking to loot for food and abduct to replenish its ranks.
There is a long history of LRA violence in Congo. Attacks, however, reached a peak after Operation Lightning Thunder of December 2008, when the Ugandan army, in collaboration with the Congolese army and with U.S. support, attacked LRA bases in the Congolese Garamba National Park. The operation had the effect of scattering the LRA forces which in turn unleashed a series of coordinated attacks against the Congolese population. In a period of three weeks, close to 1,000 people were brutally murdered. About 200 were abducted, many of whom have not yet returned. Attacks continued throughout 2009, bringing the total number of LRA-caused deaths to 1,500. An estimated 3,000 people were abducted in the year; about 700 of those abducted were children.
Part II examines the role of the Congolese army and the United Nations – hypothetically the protectors of the local population – in preventing civilian casualties. In reality, the situation is dismal, as Ledio explains.
The lack of peacekeepers to protect humanitarian convoys has forced aid groups to cease assistance to people in areas targeted by the LRA. After a series of LRA attacks on Congolese civilians who had just received food aid, and fearing attacks against their staff, U.N. and humanitarian organizations decided to stop the distribution of food in adherence to the “Do No Harm” principle. “Ideally we would need U.N. peacekeepers or Congolese soldiers to stay in the communities at least two weeks after the distribution of food,” said an international aid worker. “But there are not enough U.N. troops and the FARDC cannot be trusted.” As a result, many are starving. “We are being exterminated by the LRA and from hunger,” a resident of Bangadi told Enough.
Photo: LRA fighters (AP)