Groups from the Lord’s Resistance Army continue to attack civilians throughout central Africa. Attacks against civilians in a remote corner of Bas Uele district in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo go largely unnoticed. Unlike most areas where the LRA operates, attacks in northern Bas Uele are intended to empty the area—of strategic importance to the LRA’s cross-border movement to the Central African Republic, or CAR—of civilians. The lack of a meaningful military force to challenge the LRA has turned the northern region of Bas Uele into a veritable haven for the brutal rebel group.
The entire region of Bas Uele has been targeted by the LRA for the last 15 months. Enough documented 51 separate attacks and 105 deaths caused by the LRA in Bas Uele through April 2010. This brings the total number of people killed by the LRA in Congo since December 2008 to nearly 2,500.
At least 570 people were abducted in Bas Uele during this period, and more than 80 remain with the rebels, including 52 children. As is common practice for the LRA, abducted children are forced to fight or used as sex slaves.
LRA violence has caused significant population displacement. Close to 58,000 people are internally displaced in Bas Uele and more than 5,000 people—mostly from Bas Uele—live in refugee camps in the towns of Zemio, Mboki, and Obo in CAR. Killings, abductions, and population displacement have continued unabated in the past few months.
LRA fighters have used Bas Uele as an important base and transit point to CAR where the majority of LRA fighters and commanders have been based in recent months. LRA violence in Bas Uele is intended to depopulate the area north of Ango and south of the CAR border. Eyewitnesses said that LRA fighters killed, abducted, and beat many civilians. Those released were told by LRA commanders to abandon their homes and move to CAR; their lands were confiscated by the LRA who uses abductees as forced laborers to cultivate the land.
Troops from the Congolese national army, or FARDC, are too few and lack requisite training to challenge the LRA’s seizure of the area. Unpaid for months and not receiving food rations, FARDC troops steal from the local population. Due to the lack of any supervision and controls, FARDC troops widely abuse the civilians they were sent to protect.
The U.N. mission in Congo, MONUSCO, has peacekeepers in only one location in Bas Uele, in Dingila. Despite the small number of peacekeepers, their presence has deterred LRA attacks in and around Dingila. MONUSCO is in the process of withdrawing peacekeepers from Dingila, a decision actively opposed by the local community who fear LRA attacks. Peacekeepers in Dingila should not be withdrawn; instead more blue helmets should deploy to other towns in Bas Uele such as Ango and Banda to protect the population from LRA attacks and their own predatory army. The drawdown of U.N. forces is in line with the Congolese government’s desires and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1925. This should be carried out while anticipating LRA activity and focusing military forces to minimize their threat to civilians. FARDC soldiers also tend to behave better when U.N. troops are present, as Enough researchers have observed in areas of neighbouring Haut Uele.
After signing into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recover Act on May 24, 2010, the Obama administration is developing a comprehensive strategy to deal with the LRA. Any viable strategy needs to take into account the importance of Bas Uele to the LRA as well as ensure that civilians, including the thousands of internally displaced in DRC and refugees in CAR, are protected.