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Uganda: End of Kony’s LRA as rebels return home?

By Musinguzi Blanshe

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Posted on August 25, 2023 09:01

Fighters loyal to the Lord’s Resistance Army pose with their rifles inside the forest near River Mbou in the Central African Republic
Fighters loyal to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) pose with their rifles inside the forest near River Mbou in the Central African Republic (CAR) in this handout dated April 4, 2012. REUTERS

The anticipated short retrieval operation was stretched out due to disagreements over the repatriation of the CAR women married to ex-fighters.

Uganda is facilitating the return of multiple fighters associated with Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army (LRA) from the Central Africa Republic. The move sparks optimism for a conclusion to the protracted conflict, initiated by Kony, which has reverberated throughout northern Uganda, the DRC, Central Africa and Sudan.

On 23 July, a group of 14 fighters along with their families landed in Uganda. This was followed by the arrival of another 16 fighters and their families on 14 August. Spearheaded by the Netherlands-based peace organization, PAX, an estimated 100 fighters are slated for repatriation.

Although smaller repatriation exercises have occurred sporadically over the years, the recent surge is unparalleled in its scale. The resurgence of internal conflicts in the CAR, compounded by famine, has prompted the significant repatriation, insiders told The Africa Report.

After a revolt led by former CAR President François Bozizé in 2020, tensions have escalated between government forces – supported by Rwandan military and Russian mercenaries, Wagner – and the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), a conglomerate of minor rebel groups.

“Exhausted and pursued by ex-Seleka rebels, these LRA factions sought a quick extraction,” a source involved in the repatriation said.

Repatriation implications

These LRA factions had severed ties with Kony between 2009 and 2014. Residing in the Zemio Haut-Mbomou prefecture, adjacent to the DRC, they engaged in subsistence farming and hunting. Their primary communication with the outside world, particularly with PAX, was facilitated via local chieftains.

Negotiations between Uganda and the CAR were inaugurated by PAX early this year. To foster trust, these wary fighters were connected with peers who had been repatriated recently, assuring them of a harmonious reintegration into their native communities.

However, the repatriation has not been without hiccups. The anticipated short retrieval operation in early July stretched to three weeks due to disagreements surrounding the repatriation of the CAR women married to the ex-fighters.

While Ugandan government officials claim that the LRA menace subsided back in 2006, stakeholders in the repatriation process view it as a monumental step towards resolving remnants of the LRA saga. The conflict led to over 100,000 fatalities, 20,000 child abductions and the displacement of two million civilians.

Kony: The Enigma Persists

Brigadier Felix Kulayigye, a spokesperson for the Ugandan army, said that the region has been peaceful since 2006. In contrast, Lyandro Komakech, a regional facilitator in the repatriation, perceives the return as monumental.

“It marks the twilight of the prolonged LRA conflict,” he tells The Africa Report.

Kony’s location remains an enigma. With a substantial bounty from the US government and over 30 charges of war crimes from the International Criminal Court, conjectures about his hideout are rife. Some defectors speculate he is hiding in Sudan.

Komakech suggests that Kony is in Kafia Kingi, bordering Sudan and South Sudan. He further revealed a transformation in Kony’s modus operandi, suggesting a shift towards entrepreneurial ventures, particularly in the resources sector.

Regarding Kony’s location, the Uganda army remains reticent.

“His whereabouts are uncertain,” Kulayigye says.

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