Recent Lord’s Resistance Army attacks display worrying signs of a more organized, larger, and better-armed rebel force. These developments raise questions about the LRA’s ability to rearm and secure supplies.
Most of the attacks taking place in South Sudan in the past 7-8 months were characterized by brutal killings carried out with machetes as LRA fighters tried to find food and save bullets. In the recent attacks, bullets were used unsparingly while the primary reason for the attacks seemed to have been confronting the Ugandan army, or UPDF, an apparent strategy that I discussed in a post yesterday.
Regional analysts maintain that two possible sources of supplies for the LRA might be the Sudanese government and the Ambororo tribes, well-armed and supplied pastoralists who move frequently in LRA territory in search of pastures for their cattle.
Reports in the Central African newspaper Le Confident say that LRA fighters recently kidnapped Ambororo women and children to force the pastoralists to supply food to the rebel group. A top Ugandan army commander operating in Central African Republic, or CAR, confirmed that the kidnappings have soured any relationship between the Ambororo and the LRA. According to him, Ambororo chiefs pledged to cut all ties with the LRA in a September meeting with the Ugandan army. This came after the army rescued two Ambororo women and a child from the LRA.
If the Ambororo link is cut off, the Khartoum government remains one of the few possible sources LRA leader Joseph Kony can turn to for fresh supplies. Sudanese government officials admit that Khartoum supported Kony in the past but cut ties in 2005. Southern Sudanese authorities maintain however that this support never ended.
The Khartoum government has not publicly condemned LRA attacks on Sudanese soil despite the fact that such attacks are rebel incursions on their sovereign territory.
Another potential source of LRA supply, although on a smaller scale, could be individuals in the Congolese armed forces, the FARDC. Rumors of opportunistic FARDC soldiers selling uniforms and ammunition to LRA rebels abound. Enough spoke recently to a former LRA rebel who was wearing an FARDC uniform when he surrendered. He claimed he found the uniform in a house.
Civilian protection from LRA attacks remains the biggest concern and one that must be addressed by the Sudanese army, the Ugandan army, and the U.N. jointly— especially if the LRA has managed to reconstitute itself as the lethal force it was in the past. Reports from various organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Small Arms Survey, have found that the SPLA, the southern Sudanese army, alone was not fully capable of protecting civilians from LRA attacks in the past.
More SPLA soldiers need to be deployed to Western Equatoria State, the epicenter of LRA attacks in southern Sudan. The U.N. should help the southern Sudanese army in their fight against the LRA, especially if the Ugandan army leaves Sudan to pursue the LRA in CAR. The U.N. mission is already providing logistical aid to the SPLA in other Sudanese states.
The Obama administration’s new strategy on Sudan largely ignored the LRA problem in South Sudan. As Resolve Uganda rightly stated in a press release, the administration’s policy fails to account for the grave threat LRA attacks pose to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war between North and South Sudan. Crucially, the U.S. government needs to ensure that there are no incentives for the Khartoum government if it has indeed continued to supply the LRA.