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Uganda-Sudan: The LRA and Sudan

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RI-KWANGBA, 30 May 2007 (IRIN) - It is an open secret that before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was reached between the north and Southern Sudan, the LRA received military support from the government in Khartoum and the Ugandan government was assisting the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

With the implementation of the CPA, the north has distanced itself from the LRA and withdrawn support, although observers believe it possible that the LRA still receives assistance from individuals in the former government's security structure and businessmen in the region.

As a result of the CPA and pressure from Uganda and Southern Sudan, the LRA has become weaker on the ground. It has lost bases and safe havens, and been further weakened by the loss of basic facilitation and logistical support.

But the SPLM-led administration in Southern Sudan is eager to see a peace deal for the LRA because it is a potential magnet for militia, organised bandits and disaffected groups. The Acholi - a cross-border ethnic group from which the LRA drew its initial support - has complained of marginalisation, and resentment of the 'Dinka dominated' SPLM/A is common among other Equatorian ethnic groups. Not all the attacks and insecurity in eastern Equatoria in particular can be laid at the feet of the LRA, international and local observers agree.

David Gressly, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Southern Sudan, [link to interview] says both sides of the conflict are motivated to reach a settlement because of 'fatigue' with the long-running crisis. In the absence of a more conventional political agenda for the LRA, the International Criminal Court charges have become important leverage, say observers. Fear of being tried in Europe has been a powerful incentive for the LRA leaders to negotiate their future.

Similarly, Uganda's President Museveni may be considering the implications for his own government and reputation if the ICC continues investigations into war crimes and abuses in northern Uganda.

The LRA's Kony and Otti insist on the ICC charges being lifted. They say they want traditional justice instead, which focuses on reconciling communities rather than prosecuting individuals. And they want the Ugandan government - which asked the ICC to investigate the LRA - also to be prosecuted.

"Traditional justice we appreciate, but it must be taken on both sides. The Ugandan government committed some atrocities as well," said Otti.

Although the impact of the LRA has been significant, conflict in northern Uganda has actually been low-level by conventional definitions of war, with no more than about 400 people killed every year. But the LRA's tactics and attacks on civilian targets have maintained a high level of fear and caused mass displacement.

The prospect of a continued crisis has enormous humanitarian implications; but so does peace with the challenge to resettle a traumatised population and to reintegrate child soldiers who have grown up as killers. According to one international security source, the LRA's greatest weapon is: "Not what they do, but what they could do - they are one of the best tools in the region."

IRIN In-Depth: "Living with the LRA"

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