Overall levels of violence in the Mbomou-Uele border region* continued to decline in November compared to previous months, in part because the LRA committed fewer attacks (two) and abductions (zero) than it has in any month since at least June 2008. However, intercommunal conflict in Haut Mbomou and Mbomou prefectures of Central African Republic (CAR) did continue in November 2017, with armed men from the Peuhl community committing two attacks in which at least 20 civilians were killed.
November and early December also highlighted the plight of LRA returnees in DRC and CAR. At least 11 LRA returnees, including three children, are stranded in the Mbomou-Uele border region as repatriation and family reunification processes have stalled in many areas.
Historic low in LRA violence
The two attacks by the LRA in November were the fewest of any month by the rebel group since at least June 2008, one of the first months for which the LRA Crisis Tracker has data. As context, from 2008-2016 the LRA averaged 15 attacks and 40 civilian abductions in the month of November.
The two LRA attacks in November 2017 occurred near Pambayamba, a small mining community in the remote northeastern region of Haute Kotto prefecture in CAR. In both attacks, LRA combatants ambushed motorcyclists and looted them of supplies, including soap, sugar, and cash. The LRA attacks near Pambayamba extended a trend of heightened LRA activity in northeastern Haute Kotto since July 2017, which includes two attacks north of Pambayamba in October 2017.
Intercommunal tension in the Mbomous persists
Tensions between the Peuhl minority and other ethnic groups in Mbomou and Haut Mbomou prefectures continue to simmer. Since April 2017, 38% of all incidents of violence recorded by the LRA Crisis Tracker in the two prefectures involved armed Peuhl civilians or combatants from the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), a Peuhl-dominated armed group active in eastern CAR. Some of these incidents involved Peuhl civilians or UPC combatants clashing with or targeting armed actors and civilians from other ethnic groups. An additional 7% of incidents of violence since April involved Peuhl civilians being targeted by armed groups, including anti-balaka and the LRA.
Armed Peuhl were responsible for two attacks on civilians in November, including the killing of at least 20 civilians in the Mbomou community of Dembia on November 20. The attack on Dembia followed efforts by a local armed militia in Zemio to force armed Peuhl operating there to leave Zemio following months of continued clashes and tensions. As the armed Peuhl were moving west towards Dembia, the High Frequency (HF) radio Early Warning System (EWS) was utilized to warn civilians there of the risk of armed men approaching the community. Though subsequent clashes killed 20 civilians, the alert allowed many women and children to avoid the violence.
LRA returnees, including women and children, remain stranded
In the first 11 months of 2017, 46 people escaped long-term LRA captivity, defined as having spent six months or more in the LRA. Of these 46 escapees, 17 were children, and 15 were adult youth (ages 18-24), and 7 were men above the age of 24.
Tracing the families of long-term LRA returnees and safely returning them to their homes is often a difficult process. Many escape in a country other than the one in which they were abducted, including 19 of the 46 long-term LRA returnees in 2017. In addition, many escape the LRA in remote communities that are difficult for international humanitarian actors to access. Others were abducted from communities that are now experiencing conflict, raising concerns about their ability to return home safely. Finally, many of the international actors once tasked with helping repatriate LRA escapees have withdrawn or reduced their operational footprint in LRA-affected areas.
As a result of these challenges, some LRA escapees are forced to endure prolonged separation from their families while awaiting transport back to their homes and are deprived of appropriate medical and psychosocial services. This suffering is compounded by the mental and physical trauma they endured during LRA captivity. LRA Crisis Tracker records show that there are at least 11 long-term LRA returnees, including three children, stranded in communities in DRC and CAR with no progress being made towards reunifying them with their families. At least three other recent long-term LRA returnees are at risk of being stranded should immediate steps not be taken to reunite them with their families.
The 11 long-term LRA returnees currently stranded included:
Bangui (CAR): A Ugandan LRA combatant with severe mental health problems who had been held in a prison since mid-2016 in unclear legal circumstances;
Haute Kotto (CAR): Three minors in a remote community without access to medical or psychosocial services; one of whom has been stranded there for more than six months;
Haut Mbomou (CAR): A Congolese woman stranded at a transit center for LRA returnees;
Mbomou (CAR): Two Congolese and two South Sudanese men stranded in remote locations;
Haut Uele (DRC): Two Central African male adult youth who have been in UN custody since June 2017.