Enough has learned that as many as 400 people may have died in eastern Congo in fresh attacks by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. The United Nations officially puts the death toll for December and January at 180, but sources within the U.N. concede that they have no presence in the affected areas and fear that their statistics drastically underestimate the severity of the attacks.
A recent report from the United Nations Humanitarian organization, or OCHA, states that 100 confirmed LRA killings took place in January 2010 and 80 people were killed in December 2009 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report also concedes that the real number for the month of January could rise as bodies are still being found and other cases are being confirmed.
While the killings for January 2010 are still being revised, reports from the ground suggest the numbers for December are far too low. The U.N. estimates that 15 to 20 people out of the 80 killed in December were from Tapili, site of an LRA attack in mid December. Some reports from the field, however, state that 126 people were killed in Tapili. The president of civil society in the town of Niangara said in an interview with the U.N. station Radio Okapi that the total number of the mid-December attacks (including Tapili) is 266 people. These discrepancies demonstrate the difficulty of getting a true picture of who has been affected by LRA attacks in recent weeks, but what’s clear is that official estimates don’t convey the magnitude of the suffering.
It is alarmingly apparent that the LRA problem will not just go away, and that recent statements from Congolese and Ugandan officials claiming that the LRA threat is over are simply inaccurate. On the contrary, the facts from the ground indicate that the situation is worsening. A comprehensive U.N. strategy for dealing with the LRA is urgently needed, and must place civilian protection as the top priority. U.N. presence is key at this moment, as the presence of peacekeepers has been shown to deter LRA attacks. Also, civilians themselves report Congolese soldiers behave better toward the local population when under the watch of the U.N.
Photo: Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Congo.