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On the Heels of Kony: The Untold Tragedy Unfolding in the Central African Republic

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On the Heels of Kony: The Untold Tragedy Unfolding in the Central African Republic

Posted by Ledio Cakaj on June 24, 2010

On the Heels of Kony: The Untold Tragedy Unfolding in the Central African Republic

Executive summary
The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, has been ruthlessly attacking civilians in the Central African Republic, or CAR, since February 2008. Attacks continued unabated in the country’s isolated southeastern Haut Mbomou and Mbomou prefectures, and surged during the first three months of 2010. Despite this deadly track record, LRA violence in CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been badly under-reported and gone largely unnoticed.This report, which is based on extensive interviews with eyewitnesses gathered during field research in LRA-affected regions, describes in detail the LRA’s reign of terror in CAR over the past two years. [1]
The report illuminates the casual brutality of the LRA in considerable detail, including the terrible toll the militia continues to inflict on civilians in a largely forgotten corner of Africa. These incidents make a compelling case that the international community continues to do too little too late to end the scourge of the LRA.
This research underscores two other key points:
  • Joseph Kony and other senior LRA leaders were nearly within the grasp of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, or UPDF, last year and could very likely have been apprehended if the United States and other members of the international community had provided more effective assistance in the form of intelligence sharing and key logistical and operational support for military operations.
  • There is a genuine risk of the LRA being able to regroup over time in CAR despite some key losses because of that country’s general lack of internal security and the relative absence of international attention to the situation in CAR.
Enough has confirmed 57 separate LRA attacks and 134 confirmed deaths in CAR since February 2008.[2] But the real number of those killed is likely far greater.[i] More than 500 people were kidnapped over the last two years.[ii] Enough documented 273 cases of abducted people believed to be still in the hands of the LRA. Those abducted, many of whom are less than 18 years old, are forced to fight or are used as sex slaves.
LRA violence is creating a growing humanitarian crisis. Nearly 15,000 people have been internally displaced and more than 5,000 Congolese live in refugee camps in CAR. The lack of humanitarian aid and inability to cultivate crops due to fear of LRA attacks have caused drastic food shortages. Even those residing in towns where the Ugandan army is present live in enclaves, unable to venture far from town for fear of LRA attacks. 
Apart from the Ugandan army, there are no other military forces in the area capable of dealing with the LRA. CAR’s military has a very limited presence in LRA-affected areas; their handful of soldiers and gendarmes often refuse to engage the rebels. The majority of civilians in Haut Mbomou and Mbomou prefectures remain at the mercy of the LRA.
After signing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law on May 24, 2010, the Obama administration began developing a comprehensive strategy to deal with the LRA. The ongoing atrocities in CAR underscore the urgent need for a strategy that outlines what is needed to end the LRA threat, not simply mitigate its impact. The dramatic situation in CAR calls for these specific measures to be implemented immediately:
Civilian protection. The government of CAR must prioritize the protection of its own citizens from the LRA by deploying an increased army and gendarmerie presence, both to reinforce troops in the major towns and to extend their presence to unprotected rural areas. This should be complemented by the UPDF, which has been pursuing the LRA but has not prioritized the protection of civilians. Providing effective protection for populated areas denies the LRA access to new abductees and needed food supplies, and should be made a central component of military strategy.
Humanitarian response. Aid agencies should step up efforts to maintain humanitarian access to populations in CAR. Although the Central African military has provided some support for aid convoys, these convoys are too few in number to be effective. The Ugandan military should provide additional support to fill the gap.  The United Nations and government agencies can catalyze this effort by stepping up their presence in the field and utilizing emergency funding mechanisms if necessary.
Multilateral coordination. International actors, both uniformed and civilian, should step up their presence in LRA-affected areas of CAR. Increased U.N. efforts should include establishing a new mandate that would allow the redeployment of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, or MINURCAT, moving troops from the Chadian border to LRA-affected areas and tasking them with protecting civilians. Civilian U.N. agencies should establish a field presence in the region as well, and appropriate coordination mechanisms should be developed to ensure these efforts are linked up across borders with the U.N. missions in Congo and Sudan.

A quick overview of CAR
CAR, a former French colony that became independent in 1960, borders some of the most volatile countries in Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south, Sudan to the east, and Chad to the north. One of the 10 poorest African nations, CAR was ranked a dismal 179 of 182 countries in the 2009 Human Development Index. The country has been ruled for most of its postindependence period by military men who came to power by force. The current leader, General Francois Bozize, took power in a coup on March 2003 and won the May 2005 presidential election. In general, CAR has tended to be a diplomatic afterthought for Western states and as well as its own neighbours. The light diplomatic and commercial presence in CAR, coupled with the fact that the country receives very little media attention, has allowed LRA abuses to flourish far from the spotlight.
Roughly the size of Texas, CAR has a population of around 4.5 million inhabitants.[iii] The majority of the population targeted by the LRA comes from the Zande tribes, which make up a very small percentage of the CAR population. Traditionally engaged in small farming—the word Zande means “land owners” in the local Pazande language—Zande tribes living in South Sudan and northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, have also been targeted by the LRA. [iv]
The population of Haut Mbomou and Mbomou prefectures is comprised of a mix of ethnicities. Chadian and Senegalese traders that have come into the country since the early 2000s have settled in some of the larger towns in Haut Mbomou while many Sudanese who came as refugees never left. One group that frequently encounters the LRA is the Mbororo.
The Mbororo: Confronting the LRA
The Mbororo are nomadic cattle herders originally from Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Mali, and Niger.[v] There are many Mbororo groups with different cultures and languages. Many are Muslims although some groups practice animism. Mbororos arrived in LRA-affected areas of CAR, Sudan, and Congo relatively recently.
As nomadic herders, the Mbororo frequently come across the LRA while travelling in the bush in search of pastureland. The grazing patterns of the Mbororo herders have also created tensions with local Zande farmers, who feel their land is threatened by the pastoralists’ cows. But unlike in Southern Sudan and northeastern Congo, Mbororos in CAR have settled in towns like Mboki and Obo and have intermarried with the Zande. These marriages are most often unions between Mbororo men and Zande women. Settling might account for the relatively good relationships between the Mbororo and Zande in CAR. This is not the case in Congo and South Sudan where the Mbororo are frequently accused of collaborating with the LRA.[vi]
During research conducted in four different countries in Central Africa, Enough has found no evidence to support the claims that the Mbororo willingly assist the LRA. Like all other civilians in the region, the Mbororo are victims of LRA violence and seem to offer direct support to the LRA only as a result of being threatened and intimidated. The LRA have abducted Mbororo children and slaughtered Mbororo cattle.[vii] Mbororos have often been killed, but given the nomadic nature of some Mbororo groups, the number of deaths is difficult to estimate. The chief of the Mbororo in Mboki estimates that 53 Mbororos were killed by the LRA in the first two months of 2010 alone, although Enough could not independently verify these claims.
Former LRA fighters freely admit to exploiting the Mbororo.[viii] LRA groups in the bush use Mbororo tracks to move and for orientation. Former LRA abductees said that Mbororo cows are a good source of food for the rebels, who usually steal two or three cows, slaughtering and eating as much as they can on the spot and carrying the rest. Mbororo families are held hostage by the LRA as members of the family are forced to spy or buy goods for them. Often, the Mbororo are forced to serve as caretakers of the young children abducted by the LRA; to refuse such services would likely result in a death sentence for a Mbororo family.
But the Mbororo, especially in CAR, have established resistance to LRA rebels. Arming themselves with bows and poisoned arrows, Mbororos  have created local self-defense groups. Most importantly, the Mbororo have valuable information on LRA whereabouts which they often use to alert civilians or the UPDF in case of impending LRA attacks. “The Mbororo are very helpful and we are allowing them to use our hospital in Obo as a way of thanking them for their help,” said a UPDF commander.[ix]
The LRA in CAR
Attacks during the Juba peace process
LRA incursions in CAR started at the end of February 2008. While the Juba peace talks were still ongoing, Kony, at the time based in the Congolese Garamba National Park, sent raiding parties to neighboring CAR. Led by Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen—two top commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity—LRA fighters abducted people to be used as potential fighters. Some 130 people were abducted in February and March of 2008, most of whom were later forced to fight for the LRA. Many have either been killed or remain with the rebels.
The LRA’s first target in CAR was Bassigbiri, a town 50 km from the Congolese border in the southeastern corner of the country, which was attacked on February 25, 2008. The LRA abducted approximately 60 people, who were then taken back to the LRA’s camps in Garamba National Park. Six people abducted in Bassigbiri were later killed. “They came with guns, machetes and ropes to tie us,” said a man who was abducted that night and stayed for over a year with the LRA. The abducted were tied together by their waists and forced to carry all the looted food and goods. Once they had to spend the night in a hole in the ground under a large tarpaulin with large rocks keeping it in place. Many almost suffocated. The group made it to Garamba where they were first forced to cultivate LRA gardens, and later forced to fight for the LRA.
Subsequently, on the night of March 5 and morning of March 6, 2008, a large LRA group of 80 people led by Odhiambo attacked the evangelical Africa Inland Mission’s church neighbourhood in Obo. Of the 73 people who were abducted, 29 have since returned.[x] The majority of those abducted were less than 18yearsold. More than 30 children from Obo, some abducted after March 2008, are still believed to be with the LRA.
As in Bassigbiri, the LRA fighters looted food and other supplies during the attack in Obo, even though international organizations were at the time providing truckloads of foods to the LRA in an effort to bolster the peace process. According to a man from Obo kidnapped in March 2008 who stayed with the LRA for 18 months, much of the food was hidden in and around their camps in Garamba. The LRA planned for future war despite continuing to participate in the peace talks. “Kony ordered the raids,” said a Ugandan former LRA fighter who participated in the attack, “to collect more soldiers for us.”[xi]
Post Operation Lightning Thunder: The LRA moves into CAR
Attacks in CAR increased in 2009 after the regional offensive against the LRA in northeastern Congo, dubbed Operation Lightning Thunder, led by the Ugandan Army with U.S. support. As a result of the offensive several LRA groups, including one led by Kony, moved to CAR and resumed attacking civilians. In addition to Bassigbiri, Aboissi and Selim were some of the first locations in CAR to be attacked. In February 2009, LRA fighters ambushed troops from the CAR army east of Obo.[xii] Attacks continued around Obo and shifted west toward Mboki.
Mboki, July 2009: Civilians fight back
Mboki was attacked for the first time on July 24, 2009. The LRA group responsible for the attack came south from DRC and was commanded by either Colonel Acellam Smart or another fighter under his command.[xiii] According to an abductee who escaped this group just before the attack, Acellam’s unit totalled over 60 people, with at least 30 carrying guns, and settled near the Mbomou River, 10 km south of Mboki, inside the large forest of Reserve de Faune Mbomou Orientale. On the morning of July 24, 2009, LRA fighters abducted seven people: two Congolese refugees and five Central African citizens, including a 6-year-old girl. The rebels questioned the abductees about the market and military forces in Mboki.
According to eyewitnesses, the LRA group attacking Mboki included 13 fighters, 18 women and children abducted in DRC, and the six abductees from Mboki who were tied together with rope around their waists. An 8-year-old Congolese boy led the abducted, pulling the rope with which they were tied. The 6-year-old girl remained at the LRA camp and was later given to Mbororo cattle herders who brought her home. During the walk from the Mbomou River to Mboki’s market, LRA fighters told people they encountered on the way that they were from the Ugandan army.
Emerging on Mboki’s main road, where the town’s market is also located, the LRA group started to loot. Initially the traders allowed the rebels to take what they wanted, including tea, sugar, soap, boots, and machetes. But when one LRA fighter shot an 11-year-old Chadian boy, the traders responded with arrows and machetes. Two male LRA fighters whose guns jammed were killed with machetes by members of the community, while one armed female LRA fighter died immediately from an arrow. The LRA fighters killed five civilians in Mboki, three people from the local population, and the two Congolese refugees abducted that morning. The other abductees managed to cut the rope and escape.[xiv]
The LRA group retreated hastily, trying to evade the arrows despite being armed with sub-machine guns. At least three LRA fighters were injured by arrows. A Mbororo man kidnapped after the attack who later escaped told the Mbororo chief that two LRA fighters died that day in the bush and another was severely injured and died later, bringing the number of LRA killed in Mboki to six.[xv]
The attack in Mboki represents a turning point in the history of the LRA in CAR. It was one of the few times the LRA had ever been attacked by civilians and the first time it faced stiff resistance in CAR. A former LRA fighter who surrendered in CAR in September 2009 said that after the Mboki attack, “We received orders to be careful of civilians who are hostile in CAR. We were told to kill all civilians we caught with guns.”[xvi]
After the Mboki attack, LRA attacks in CAR became more brutal and civilian casualties increased. This was partly in response to Mboki but also because by July 2009, the UPDF had entered CAR and settled in Obo.
Targeting humanitarian aid
On September 20, 2009, a truck from the Italian non-governmental organization Cooperazione Internazionale, or COOPI, travelled to Obo from Mboki, carrying school construction materials. Seven people were in the truck’s cabin including the driver, another COOPI employee, two young Congolese refugees, and three people from CAR, including a 10-year-old boy. The truck was attacked in Mwanzi, 5 km beyond the Mbomou River, before the village of Kadjema. The LRA killed four people in total.
The COOPI truck was accompanied by a UPDF escort vehicle. According to eyewitnesses, the UPDF truck overtook the COOPI truck just before crossing the Mbomou River. “The Ugandan soldiers crossed the river on the barge before us,” said one person who was in the COOPI truck the day of the attack, “and we never saw them again.” A few minutes after crossing the river, seven LRA soldiers emerged from the bush and shot at the COOPI truck, killing one person aboard and injuring another. It is unclear whether the UPDF soldiers heard the shots or were aware of the attack taking place.
The driver of the truck turned off the engine and the LRA forced everyone out. All of the food in the truck was loaded onto the backs of the abductees, including the 10-year-old boy. The injured person and the dead body were left behind as the truck was set ablaze. The following day, the LRA gave the 10-year-old to Mbororos they came across in the bush to take back to Mboki. Later that day the LRA killed the driver of the truck. “They hit him with an axe on the back of his head until he was dead,” said one eyewitness. The third day, the group joined a bigger LRA group commanded by Brigadier Abudema. The same day, the LRA killed another person from Obo. The three remaining abductees were distributed to three different LRA groups. One of the abductees later tried to escape but was apprehended and killed.
In the aftermath of the attack on the COOPI truck, the few remaining international organizations in the area decided to temporarily suspend their operations, which cut off the very little aid flowing in the remote corner of CAR. COOPI eventually restarted their programs in Haut Mbomou but scaled down significantly and relocated to Obo. “I don’t think the LRA targeted COOPI and probably came across the truck by accident,” said an international aid worker, “but as a result, many international organizations now refuse to work in areas where there might be LRA presence.”[xvii]
The Maboussou and Djemah attacks: A near miss with Kony
The attack of October 2, 2009 in Djemah remains the most devastating blow the Ugandan army has inflicted on LRA groups in CAR.[xviii] About 25 LRA fighters were killed and a few were captured, including two “wives” of Kony, who was himself also almost caught.
Kony was leading a large group of LRA that stepped up their attacks on civilians in late August 2009. A team of fighters from this group attacked Maboussou, 30 km west of Mboki, on August 27, 2009. The LRA killed three people in Maboussou, injured one man seriously, and raped one woman. Eight people were taken; five have recently escaped. Of the three who remained with the LRA, a 12-year-old boy was later killed near Djemah for not keeping up with the group. “He fell on the ground and could not walk anymore,” said one witness. “One fighter smashed his skull with a club.”
According to two witnesses, the commander leading the attack on Maboussou was Major Olanya, Kony’s younger brother. There were 19 fighters in his group and over 30 abductees, mostly women. Another eight were abducted in Maboussou. The group later joined Kony in the nearby village of Kere. The abducted were made to kneel in front of Kony, who “allowed them to live.”[xix] One 14-year-old girl was given to Olanya as a “wife,” and the boys were assigned to two different LRA groups.[xx]
Kony’s group moved north toward Djemah. Located on the southern tip of a huge forested area called the Zemongo Reserve, Djemah is split in two by Ouara River, the neighborhood of Fouka in the north, and the rest of Djemah in the south. One team from Kony’s group attacked Fouka, only reachable from Djemah by a barge operating on the Ouara River. Kony’s group came from Maboussou, crossed the river north of Djemah by rope, took the Derbissaka road, and attacked Fouka. Meanwhile, Kony stayed away from Djemah, remaining inside Zemongo. According to one child who was with Kony outside Djemah, Kony planned to enter Djemah in the morning after his fighters had secured the town. “Kony was going to decide whether they would live or not,” he said.
At 3 a.m., on the way to Fouka, with two abductees in tow, the LRA killed one man.[xxi] “The commander bayoneted him to death, worried he would raise the alarm,” said a witness who was abducted earlier. At 4 a.m., under very heavy rain, LRA fighters gathered almost everyone from the village and forced them to sit in an open space and prepare food. Two people managed to escape undetected and one swam across the river and alerted the UPDF troops in Djemah.
Teams of eight UPDF soldiers each responded rapidly by taking the barge to Fouka from Djemah. The soldiers reportedly shot in the air first to force the rebels to leave and not harm the people they had taken. Most of the rebels ran immediately toward the bush, but a few returned fire and dragged some of the abductees they had already tied and loaded with food into the bush with them. The LRA managed to take seven people that night. According to one witness in Kony’s camp, Kony initially thought the shots were by the LRA and started to walk toward Djemah but as LRA fighters appeared running toward him Kony retreated immediately.
During their escape, the LRA killed eight more people, having already killed two near Djemah. Of the seven people the LRA abducted, four were girls and three boys. The day after the attack, Kony ordered that all three boys be killed as revenge for the number of deaths the LRA suffered in Djemah. The LRA killed 13 people in total from Djemah. The UPDF likely killed 25 LRA fighters in Djemah. Two were killed in Fouka but the rest were killed in the bush as the UPDF continued the chase for days after the initial attack. “We kept running,” said a witness in Kony’s group, “and the UPDF almost caught up with Kony, killing one of his bodyguards.”
This incident powerfully demonstrates how—with greater international assistance such as intelligence sharing, logistics, and transport—apprehending Joseph Kony is a distinctly achievable goal. It also underscores the hard fact that a failure to apprehend Kony will only lead to further war crimes against the civilian population in CAR and beyond.
Recent attacks: LRA violence intensifies
After the Mboki and Djemah attacks in 2009, LRA violence increased considerably. While mass abductions have continued, killings per attack more than doubled on average, starting in mid-October 2009.[xxii] The first four months of 2010 were the bloodiest so far, with 63 people losing their lives at the hands of the LRA. This further raises concerns about the ability of the LRA to potentially regroup and regain strength in the often lawless hinterlands of CAR.
After Djemah, the LRA groups further splintered, moving in several directions while continuing to attack civilians. Kony’s group moved south to Derbissaka, abducting 21 people there in late October, and then moved eastward.Another group moved west into Mbomou prefecture, and attacked the gold mining town of Nzako on February 10, 2010. One particularly brutal group remained around Obo, despite the large Ugandan military presence in that area.
The same group that attacked Nzako went on a rampage in Mbomou prefecture, attacking a series of locations while moving south and west across CAR, culminating in an attack on the relatively large town of Rafai on February 19, 2010. Two were killed, 14 were severely wounded, and 30 were abducted.[xxiii] While some rebels remained around Chinko River and attacked Dembia on February 25, another group moved northwest to Yalinga where on February 27 they attacked the police post, stole medicines from a clinic, and looted and destroyed property.[xxiv]
The LRA continued to attack civilians in CAR over the past three months. On March 22, the same LRA group operating around Chinko River attacked Agoumar, west of Rafai, killing 10 and abducting 50.[xxv] On April 4, a commercial truck coming from the direction of Bangassou was attacked by the LRA in Guerekindo between Rafai and Dembia. Eight people are believed dead while two were severely injured.[xxvi] On April 21, 2010, six people were killed in Gouete, 45 km north of Zemio, and three were kidnapped. On April 29, Kitessa, 45 km east of Zemio on the road to Mboki, was attacked. Eight people were killed.[xxvii]
The LRA’s movement and strategy
The LRA’s movement into CAR appears to have been part of a carefully executed plan. As previously described, Kony had prepared contingency plans for an eventual move to CAR and had sent LRA teams to carry out reconnaissance and abduct people 10 months before Operation Lightning Thunder. The abducted were thoroughly interrogated about military and police positions. In many ways, CAR is an ideal base for the LRA. CAR is remote, the country lacks a professional military, and its location allows for fluid movement between CAR, Sudan, and Congo for the LRA. Kony and his group moved to CAR from Congo around May 2009 after he received word from his advanced units that it was safe to go there.[xxviii]
LRA strategy for CAR, at least for the first part of 2009, seemed to have been aimed at not attracting attention. Unlike in eastern Congo, where the LRA has killed many with brutality, attacks in CAR were initially focused on abducting people and stealing food, not necessarily committing massacres. Keeping a low profile in CAR was most likely intended to allow Kony and other top commanders to move freely and avoid UPDF attacks as the force grew more accustomed to its new landscape. In contrast, violence in Congo was highly instrumental, in that it was meant to scare Congolese civilians into not disclosing LRA whereabouts to Congolese and Ugandan militaries and to divert attention away from Kony and other commanders operating in CAR.
Kony’s group, which included approximately 80 fighters and more than 100 abductees, first settled in Gougbere, 45 km north of Obo. It appears that the LRA commanders did not think that the UPDF would follow them into CAR. In the first three weeks of September, two LRA commanders, Major Okello Kalalang and Brigadier Santos Alit, were killed and Major Okot Atiak was captured, all north of Obo, around Gougbere, in three separate incidents, and the element of surprise may have been a significant factor in the UPDF’s early successes.[xxix] Again, this speaks to the importance of assistance that would allow the UPDF to move more quickly, decisively, and with credible intelligence.
On September 9, 2009 the UPDF bombed Kony’s camp in Gougbere where he was allegedly injured. The UPDF said that a large storage of food in Gougbere had been destroyed. Kony’s group then moved to Nzo, an old French airbase and hunting lodge near the Sudanese border where Kony received medical help from Sudanese traders coming into CAR. Later, Kony’s group attacked Maboussou and moved to Djemah.
Kony ordered his commanders in CAR and DRC to go to CAR for a meeting north of Djemah.[xxx] Kony had likely identified the large Zemongo forest as an ideal place to settle, much like Garamba had been in DRC. With its northern tip on the border with Sudan (and South Darfur) and its southern edge being close to the DRC border, Zemongo occupies a geographically advantageous position. The rebels mined a strip of land north of Djemah—an almost sure sign that they planned to set up camp there.
Brigadier Bok Abudema, one of the LRA’s oldest and most senior commanders, led a large group from the Congolese border near Obo northwest to Djemah. The team that attacked the COOPI truck on September 21, 2009 was part of Abudema’s group. According to one of the abductees from the COOPI truck, Abudema had received orders from Kony to join him in Djemah. En route to Djemah, he was told by one Zande LRA fighter that they were going to “Nigeria,” a reference to Abudema’s camp in Garamba, another likely indication that the LRA were planning to set up base in Zemongo. “We walked for a month trying to find Kony,” said the boy, “until the Ugandan soldiers attacked us.” Abudema and three LRA fighters were killed on December 31, 2009, 20 km north of Djemah.[xxxi]
UPDF commanders claim that in the aftermath of the foiled attack on Djemah, the LRA was thrown into disarray.[xxxii] Kony’s group moved south to Dembia and then east along the Congolese border. On March 7, 2010 Kony crossed from Bassigbiri in CAR to northwest of Doruma in DRC. Kony is believed to have met with some commanders in DRC such as Dominic Ongwen and Binansio Okumu in Bas Uele. Kony apparently went to Garamba and crossed into South Sudan in mid-April of 2010.[xxxiii] The whereabouts of the LRA commander at the moment remain unclear, though he is likely in Congo.
One LRA group remained in Zemongo and later crossed into Sudan, not very far from Southern Darfur, a development first reported by the Enough Project. The group made contact with the Sudanese Armed Forces. According to a former LRA rebel, the LRA fighters carried a message from Kony asking the Sudanese government to resume supplying the LRA.[xxxiv] One of the leaders of the group, Okello “Mission” Patrick, captured in Sudan on March 31, 2010, said that Sudanese officials were reluctant to supply the LRA but offered Kony safe passage in Sudan.[xxxv]
At present, the multiple LRA groups remain active in CAR. At least one LRA group operates around Obo close to the border with South Sudan, while two LRA groups based in Ango territory in DRC move north into CAR to attack. The tenacity of LRA groups in CAR, particularly around Chinko River near Rafai, and the groups’ willingness to push even further west in CAR indicates that they are not willing to relinquish their positions in CAR. LRA groups are clearly told to keep their positions in an effort to keep the UPDF engaged on multiple fronts.
The humanitarian impact
Civilians in eastern CAR are suffering enormously as a result of the LRA’s presence. Unlike similarly affected areas of DRC and Sudan, where international organizations offer some help, few organizations work in this remote region of CAR. Continuing LRA attacks, coupled with a lackluster humanitarian response, are creating the conditions for a humanitarian crisis. The biggest threat right now is hunger. “We are starving,” said one local official, “and don’t know how we will survive next year, especially now that we have eaten what we had stored before the LRA arrived.”
LRA attacks in the region have triggered significant internal displacement within CAR, as well as a refugee influx, mostly from neighboring areas of Congo. Refugees fleeing LRA violence in Congo are now at risk of being attacked by the LRA in CAR, as was the case with two Congolese refugees killed in Mboki in July 2009. More than 5,000 Congolese refugees, mostly from the northern part of Bas Uele, in Ango territory, live in camps in Zemio, Mboki, and Obo.
Between 12,000 and 15,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs, have fled LRA violence to live in camps or with relatives in CAR. Entire villages have relocated to larger towns where the Ugandan army maintains a presence.[xxxvi] Based on data provided by local officials, there are more than 5,200 IDPs in Obo alone. Another 4,000 IDPs live in Zemio, Mboki, and Bangassou while a few hundred have even crossed to Bondo in Province Equateur in DRC.[xxxvii] Close to 2,000 IDPs live in Bambouti near the Sudanese border.[xxxviii]
According to refugee representatives, more than 3,000 Congolese refugees now live in a camp in Zemio while 1,100 refugees are based in Mboki and another 600 live in Obo. Numbers continue to grow daily as LRA attacks in Congo continue. By December 2009, there were 2,300 Congolese refugees in Zemio but by March 2010 the number had increased by 30 percent.[xxxix]
These 20,000 IDPs and refugees have lost access to their farms and gardens, their principal sources of food. International organizations try to help but their assistance has been sporadic and unpredictable. For instance, displaced people in Zemio waited more than four months between World Food Program distributions.[xl]
Facing an acute shortage of food and medicine, some Congolese refugees have braved returning home to obtain food only to be abducted or attacked by the LRA.[xli] Most of the children living in camps do not attend school, though COOPI has started to operate one school in an IDP camp in Obo. There is limited access to health care and deaths from preventable diseases are on the rise.[xlii]
Lack of clean water is another key concern. A relief organization team visiting the refugee camp in Zemio described the situation as deplorable, mostly due to water and sanitation issues. IDPs in Obo and Mboki face the same problems. The chief of an IDP camp in Obo said, “The biggest problem is drinking water; it is very difficult to find it. We have to walk 3 km to 4 km daily to a well to get water.” An interagency mission comprised of U.N. and nongovernmental organization representatives from DRC visited the Congolese refugees in November 2009. According to the internal U.N. report from this mission, “having been abandoned … there is a great need for the Congolese refugees to receive immediately food rations for at least the next six months.”
Even in towns where there is a strong Ugandan army presence, people cannot venture far from town to work their land because of the risk of LRA attacks. In Obo, for instance, where there are perhaps 1,000 UPDF soldiers, the population has been told by Ugandan army commanders not to go further than 5 km away from the town’s perimeter. “We cannot go out of our town,” said a local official. “We live in a true enclave.” Unable to work in their gardens, people have so far survived on stored food from previous years. But such stocks have been depleted. According to the Mayor of Djemah, “We don’t know how we will face this year. We already ate the planting seeds.”
Military response to the LRA
Central African security forces
The CAR armed forces are traditionally weak and often divided. The Forces of the Central African Republic, or FACA, numbers only around 5,000 personnel, although the number of soldiers on duty at any time is a fraction of that. These forces rarely stray from the capital, are paid infrequently, and have a miserable human rights record.
CAR armed forces are very few in number throughout Haut Mbomou and are unable to challenge the LRA or protect the civilians. There are only 10 CAR army troops in Obo and 13 in Mboki, but none in Zemio, Djemah, Dembia, or Rafai. Gendarmes—military troops usually tasked with carrying out police duties outside of urban areas—are even fewer in number than the army. There are four gendarmes in Obo and three in Mboki. Similarly, a handful of police operate in the entire Haut Mbomou area.[xliii]
CAR soldiers and gendarmes, who are well armed, tend to run when the LRA attacks, or appear after the LRA has already left.[xliv] On September 8, 2009, for instance, when the LRA attacked the village of Nguiri-Nguiri, 12 km northwest of Obo, eight CAR army soldiers ran away without firing a shot and never returned. There were close to 50 CAR troops in Obo and another 20 in Zemio but they were ordered to return to Bangui at the beginning of 2010. A local official said, “There were more [CAR army troops] here but it was found they were useless so it was decided to send them home.”
The Ugandan military
Ugandan army teams entered Central Africa in the early months of 2009 but only set up base in Obo in July 2009. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 UPDF soldiers in CAR at the moment with bases in Obo, Mboki, Zemio, Dembia, Djemah, and Sam Ouandja. In practice, the Ugandan military presence dwarfs the size of the country’s own military. Given the small number of CAR military forces present in the area, the UPDF is the only force capable of addressing the LRA threat. The UPDF presence has ensured a certain level of security but has not stopped LRA attacks altogether.[xlv]
UPDF strategy in CAR has largely focused on chasing LRA groups in the bush. UPDF officials have said that protection of civilians in CAR is the task of the CAR armed forces and the gendarmerie, even though they know that the numbers of CAR military forces are too low to be able to provide protection to the population.[xlvi] Initially, the UPDF engaged in protecting civilians, even accompanying people to work on their gardens, but such practice was dropped soon after it started according to a chief in Obo. According to interviews with UPDF officers, the Ugandans deemed civilian protection relatively unimportant from a strategic perspective, even though the example of Djemah—where UPDF presence caused a huge loss to the LRA—indicates otherwise.
The majority of people interviewed in five different towns in CAR said that the UPDF had behaved professionally.[xlvii] “The first UPDF soldiers here were wild,” said one person, “but after the commander arrived last summer, things improved.” There were four reported cases of rape in Obo and harassment in Djemah committed by UPDF soldiers. Colonel Rwashande, overall UPDF commander in CAR, said that undisciplined soldiers were court marshalled and that a military court was going to Obo to try two soldiers accused of assaulting two women.[xlviii] In Djemah, UPDF commanders have conducted frequent informational meetings with local authorities and the population. The mayor of Djemah said, “As two people trying to live together, we have our differences but we talk about them and resolve them.” The UPDF has also tried to win the goodwill of people in Obo by allowing civilians to use the UPDF field hospital in Obo and bringing in medical supplies from Kampala for the use of the local population.[xlix] The local population, however, is frustrated with the inability of the UPDF to finish off the LRA.
Many were surprised with the UPDF’s failure to eliminate top LRA commanders. “The UPDF are too slow and weak,” said a man who was abducted and spent time with the LRA. “The LRA always knew when the UPDF were coming and outran them.” Frequently UPDF soldiers are slow, mostly because they are dependent on food and water rations delivered by helicopters. A guide used by the UPDF to track a large LRA group led possibly by Kony said that the UPDF travelled in a group of 300 and that they had to wait for the supply helicopter for days at a time. “The closest we got to the LRA group was four days behind them,” he said.
Logistics present the biggest challenge for the UPDF, a fact readily accepted by UPDF officers as contributing significantly to failure in the fight against the LRA. Helicopters are needed to carry food and water from Obo to forward bases and bring back injured soldiers. The helicopters used currently are too few and inefficient. To transport jet fuel from Obo to Djemah, for instance, the UPDF uses a Mi-17 helicopter which burns seven drums of fuel but can only carry eight drums. Lack of fuel and technical expertise also accounts for at least two other UPDF helicopters not being used at the moment. Other concerns include lack of water for the troops, especially in places far north in CAR such as Sam Ouandja.
Throughout its existence, the LRA has terrorized marginalized populations in remote areas of Africa, beginning in northern Uganda and moving to remote regions of Sudan, Congo, and now CAR. For too long, this has allowed the international community to overlook the LRA’s atrocities, which goes a long way toward explaining their remarkable and deeply regrettable longevity. Thanks to concerned citizens and congressional leadership in the United States, there is now a window of opportunity to reset the international strategy to apprehend Kony and his commanders and remove the LRA threat. It is essential that the world have as full a picture as possible of what is happening on the ground in CAR and its neighboring countries. This will require a surge in international support for threatened civilians. The United States will need to seize this opportunity by leading renewed international efforts at the Security Council, galvanizing key allies with interests and capabilities that can help bring Kony to justice, and catalyzing much stronger action on the ground that will actually deliver some measure of security to civilians in eastern CAR.
Appendix: Chronology of LRA attacks in the Central African Republic
February 2008—April 2010
A large LRA group attacked the village in the middle of the night, abducting 60 people, who were taken back to the LRA camps in Garamba National Park; six of the abducted were later killed while the rest were forced to work and fight for the LRA.
The LRA abducted an unknown number of people during this raid.  
A contingent of 80 LRA fighters, led by ICC-indictee Okot Odhiambo, attacked the Africa Inland Mission church neighborhood in Obo. Seventy-three people were abducted, of which 29 have since returned. The majority of abductees were less than 18 years old.
One killed.
As LRA groups infiltrated CAR in early 2009, one LRA group killed five Chadian traders coming from Sudan on the Bambouti-Obo road.
The LRA killed one person in the first of seven attacks on this village between June 2009 and April 2010. A total of six people have been killed and 30 abducted from Ligoua.
One killed.
Dindiri (3 km from Obo)
LRA looted and burned houses.
Aboissi (south of Bambouti)
One killed.
Second attack on Ligoua.
A team from a 60-person LRA group, camped inside the forest Reserve de Faune Mbomou Orientale, first abducted seven people to interrogate for logistical information. A second team, comprised of 13 fighters, abducted 18 DRC women and children, and six Mboki, then attacked and looted the Mboki marketplace, initially feigning to be Ugandan soldiers. Traders retaliated with arrows and machetes. Six LRA and five civilians were killed.
Many houses were burned; many items were looted.
One killed.
Mbokou (near Obo)
Four Congolese refugees from Doruma killed.
Five people killed in the third LRA raid on Ligoua.
A group of 19 LRA fighters accompanied by 30 abductees attacked Maboussou under the command of Kony’s younger brother Major Olanya. Three people were killed, one woman raped, and eight abducted. One abductee, a boy of 12, was later killed near Djemah. The group later joined with Kony’s team in the nearby village of Kere.
Hele Nguiri Nguiri
Although no one was killed in this attack, most of the population fled to Obo.
20 km from Obo
Two killed.
Nguili-nguili (12 km north of Obo)
In UPDF response, 25 LRA fighters were killed. This is very likely when LRA commander Lt. Colonel Santos Alit was killed.
Gassimbala (20 km from Obo)
One killed.
UPDF bombed Gougbere where Kony supposedly was camped, allegedly injuring the LRA leader. The UPDF claims to have destroyed a large food stockpile.
20 km from Obo on road to Mboki
The LRA group operating around Obo killed seven on the road to Mboki.
LRA commander Okot Atiak, accused of leading an LRA massacre of 250 civilians in Northern Uganda in 1995, captured by the UPDF.
North of Obo
LRA commander Okello Kalalang killed.
5 km from Kadjema after river Mbomo
An LRA group that was a part of Brigadier Bok Abudema’s team attacked a truck from the Italian NGO COOPI that was carrying school construction materials after its Ugandan army escort went ahead across the Mbomou River. Four killed, two abducted. Both later escaped.
One killed and six abducted.
Aboissi (south of Bambouti)
Three killed.  
One killed; one injured. 
Ngouli and Nguiri-Nguiri.
The LRA killed six people in two separate attacks on villages nearby Obo. They abducted three people, including the former mayor of Obo, who is still held by the LRA.
After abducting a couple in the northern neighborhood of Fouka to interrogate for information, a team of about 40 LRA fighters and 50 abductees raided the village, gathering locals into a central location. Two escaped and alerted Ugandan soldiers across the river in Djemah. Fighting ensued with the arrival of the Ugandan soldiers. Twenty-five LRA fighters were killed and a few were captured, including two of Kony’s “wives.” In reprisal, the LRA killed 10 civilians and abducted seven children—three of whom were later killed.
Djemah (Ourou 2)
LRA Brigadier Okedi killed. The commander was seen with his two bodyguards by two local women who alerted the UPDF.
15 km from Djemah, road to Derbissaka
Kony’s group, escaping the Ugandan army, moved south to Derbissaka, killing one person near the town and abducting 21.
One killed.
UPDF starts a 23-day hunt of a large LRA group. Chases them until Baroua (south of Derbissaka).
20 km north of Djemah
Senior Brigadier Bok Abudema killed, along with three LRA fighters, while his team was searching for Kony.
Mogoroko (north of Doruma)
One killed.
North of Djemah
Huge UPDF bombardment.
Six killed.
One killed and three injured during the fourth LRA attack on Ligoua.
A faction of the Kony-led LRA group fleeing the UPDF split off, moving toward the West and attacking the gold mining town of Nzako, killing four and abducting 50—of which 42 were later released. The same group then killed three on the road from Derbissaka to Dembia.
The LRA group that attacked Nzako then attacked this village, located north of Dembia.
Following the attack on Bakouma, the same group abducted 10, 40 km south of Dembia near the border with Congo.
Villagers in Gbangomboro, 7 km from Dembia, received warning that the LRA were coming and fled in advance of the attack.
Boule (55 km west of Zemio)
An attack by an LRA group that apparently came from Karamadar, south of Derbissaka; five abducted, one released.
Two killed and 30 abducted.
The LRA group operating around Obo killed three, including one pregnant woman, during this raid.
North of Mboki
Three killed.
60 km from Mboki border of DRC
A Chadian trader was killed during a robbery by the LRA in the Reserve de Faune Mbomou Orientale.
The LRA abducted 27, and looted the gendarmerie, weather station, and a safari camp.
One killed, two injured, six abducted, including the deputy village chief.
Agoumar (west of Rafai)
Ten killed; five seriously wounded; fifty abducted.
LRA fighters looted and destroyed property, with unconfirmed reports of killings and abductions.
Fourteen abducted; village looted.
Between Rafai and Dembia in Guerekindo
Eight killed; two severely injured.
Gouete (45 km north of Zemio on Djemah road)
Six killed; three abducted.
Between Kitessa and Gouete
UPDF finds six dead bodies (possibly some of the abducted).
Kitessa (45 km east of Zemio on road to Mboki)
Eight killed; many wounded.


[1] This report is based on field research during travel to the Central African towns of Obo, Mboki, Zemio, Djemah, and Sam Ouandja in March 2010 and subsequent follow up with sources on the ground. Unless otherwise noted, quotes and references are from extensive interviews conducted with eyewitnesses to LRA attacks, local officials, traditional chiefs, civil society representatives, aid workers, and Ugandan soldiers during this trip.
[2] See the appendix for a detailed chronology of LRA attacks in CAR during this period.

[i] Research indicates a sharp increase in attacks and killings committed by the LRA in 2010. Enough documented 35 attacks in 2009 and 22 attacks in 2010. Enough documented 71 LRA related deaths in the entirety of 2009, but 63 people were killed by the LRA in the first four months of 2010 alone. At least 83 more people were killed by the LRA but could not be independently verified. The combined number of 217 killings is probably lower than the real number of LRA-caused deaths in CAR. It is difficult to document deaths of people on the move such as Mbororo pastoralists, Chadian and Sudanese traders, and internally displaced people. Many are never found, likely killed and left in the bush.
[ii] Numbers have been compiled and cross-referenced based on Enough research, reports from local and international organizations, and media articles.
[iii] “CIA World Factbook, Central African Republic,” available at (last accessed April 28, 2010).
[iv] Interview with Zande cultural chief, Yambio, October 14, 2009.
[v] This section is based upon an interview with a Mbororo expert, Zemio, CAR, March 13, 2010.
[vi] Enough interviews in Western Equatoria, Sudan, in October 2009 and Haut Uele, DRC, in December 2009, indicated that the Mbororo were frequently accused of supplying the LRA with food and ammunition.
[vii] Interview with former LRA fighters, Gulu, September 14, 2009, April 16, 2010. “Mbororo Update 1, 2010—‘They have been systematically and relentlessly targeted by organised groups of bandits and rebels,’” available at (last accessed May 6, 2010).
[viii] Interviews with former LRA fighters, Gulu April 15 and 16, 2010.
[ix] Interview with UPDF commander, Obo, March 9, 2010.
[x] Enough interviewed six people who were abducted in March 2008 and have since returned.
[xi] Interview with former LRA second lieutenant, J.O, Gulu, April 16, 2010.
[xii] Paul-Marin Ngoupana, “Ugandan rebels attack across CAR border-Colonel,” Reuters, February 27, 2009, available at
[xiii] Interview with former LRA fighters. Gulu, April 16, 2010.
[xiv] Enough interviewed all of them with the exception of the six-year-old.
[xv] Interview with Mbororo chief, Mboki, March 12, 2010. There were reports that nine additional LRA fighters died in the bush but such claims are almost certainly exaggerated.
[xvi] Interview with former LRA fighter. Nzara, South Sudan, November 13, 2009.
[xvii] Email correspondence with aid worker, April 26, 2010.
[xviii] Interviews with UPDF commanders, Nzara, October 8, 2009 and Obo, March 9, 2010.
[xix] One of the witnesses said that the abducted were told Kony would decide if they would live or die. If abductees were deemed to be possessed by the bad spirits, they would be killed.
[xx] The witnesses accurately described Kony. They were also told by other Zande abducted before them that the commander was Kony. One of the abducted in Maboussou was tasked with finding honey in the bush for Kony, a well-known preference of the LRA commander.
[xxi] On the evening of October 1, 2009, 40 LRA fighters and 50 abductees captured a man and his wife working on their gardens north of Fouka. The couple was tied and questioned about military presence in Djemah. The LRA asked about the position of Fouka, the location of the barge and whether the population was armed. The captured man told Enough that he answered all of the questions but did not tell the LRA about the presence of close to 150 UPDF soldiers who had arrived in Djemah on the evening of September 30, 2009.
[xxii] LRA related deaths from October 2009 through March 2010 are roughly equivalent to the number of deaths during the 10 months from January to October 2009. See appendix for details.
[xxiii] Ibid. Paul-Marin Ngoupana, Richard Valdmanis, “Ugandan rebels kill two, abduct 30 in eastern CAR,” Reuters, February 20, 2010, available at
[xxiv] “Les Rebelles Ougandais enlèvent des civils dans un village de Centrafrique,” available at (last accessed April 28, 2010).
[xxv] Telephone interview with NGO worker, Zemio, March 25, 2010.
[xxvi] Email correspondence with aid worker. May 3, 2010.
[xxvii] Ibid.
[xxviii] Interview with CMI officer, Kampala, April 16, 2010.
[xxix] “LRA commander killed in CAR,” available at (last accessed May 5, 2010).
[xxx] Interview with CMI officer, Kampala, April 3, 2010.
[xxxi]“Uganda reports killing LRA commander Abudema in CAR,” BBC, January 2, 2010, available at
[xxxii] Interview with UPDF commander, Kampala, April 24, 2010.
[xxxiii] Tabu Butagira, Betty Kyakuwa, “Kony rebels returning to Garamba, says UN report,” Daily Monitor, April 27, 2010, available at
[xxxiv] Interview with CMI officer, Kampla, April 5, 2010.
[xxxv] “LRA rebel pins Sudan on support,” New Vision, April 5, 2010, available at
[xxxvi] For instance, the entire population of Hele (495 people) and Nguiri-nguri (458 people), which the LRA attacked on September 30, 2009, moved to Obo. Another 520 people joined them, displaced from the village of Ngouli, 10 km south of Obo. Interview with village chiefs, Obo, March 8, 2010.
[xxxvii] “Bulletin 140, Humanitarian and Development Partnership Team CAR,” available at$File/full_report.pdf (last accessed May 4, 2010).
[xxxviii] “Africa weekly emergency situation update, Vol. 2, Number 39,” available at (last accessed May 3, 2010).
[xxxix] Interview with OCHA representative, Zemio, March 15, 2010.
[xl] Interview with representative of the World Food Program, Zemio, March 15, 2010.
[xli] At least four Congolese refugees said their relatives have returned to get food but were captured by the LRA in Sukadi and Gwane. Interview with Congolese refugees, Zemio, March 15, 2010.
[xlii] “Central African Republic: humanitarian situation in southeast critical,” Jesuit Relief Service,December 10, 2009, available at
[xliii] Other forces protecting the population are self-defense groups. The biggest one is in Mboki with close to 200 people operating in eight different groups. Trained by a former Chadian soldier, Mboki groups comprise Chadian and Senegalese traders, Mbororos, and Zande, mostly armed with bows and arrows, machetes, and locally manufactured guns.
[xliv] Enough documented two cases when FACA actually fought LRA troops: In Kadjema on September 27 2009, 10 FACA soldiers repulsed an LRA attack, and in Rafai on February 19, 2010 FACA troops from Zemio ordered to return to Bangui happened upon the LRA group attacking Rafai.
[xlv] For instance, the LRA attacked Mboki on March 20, 2010 despite at least 50 UPDF soldiers stationed in Mboki.
[xlvi] Interviews with UPDF officers, Nzara, Obo and Kampala. October 2009, March and April 2010.
[xlvii] Overwhelmingly, people interviewed in CAR wanted the UPDF to stay. “They are a foreign army but I am happy for them to stay here to protect us from the rebels,” said a resident of Obo. UPDF presence in places like Obo and Zemio has ensured that some aid organizations have continued to operate in Haut Mbomou. “The Ugandan soldiers are the reason we are here and able to help others,” said an aid worker, “and had they not been around, more people would have died.”
[xlviii] Interview with Colonel Rwashande, Obo, March 9, 2010.
[xlix] Interview with UPDF medic and Colonel Rwashande, Obo, March 9, 2010.