• March 9, 2011
  • News & Analysis
  • 7

What’s going on in northern Congo?

March 10 update: The latest reports have confirmed that six Congolese (FARDC) soldiers were killed during the Bamangana attack on February 24, and that another four soldiers were killed near Bamangana in the week before that attack.

As we wrote last week, LRA attacks in northern Congo are on the rise. But there’s more to the story than just that. Here are some of the trends and patterns we’re seeing with LRA violence in Congo so far this year, based on reports from civil society groups, the UN and international aid organizations working on the ground.

The frequency of attacks is on the rise: There were 52 reported LRA attacks in January and February of this year, an increase from the same period last year. At this pace, LRA attacks in 2011 would increase by almost 50% compared to 2010.

Senior LRA commanders are gathering in Congo: Several senior LRA commanders, such as International Criminal Court-indictee Dominic Ongwen, have been operating in Congo since Operation Lightning Thunder began in December 2008. However, recent evidence suggests that a large LRA group, including LRA leader Joseph Kony, moved into Bas Uele district in Congo in late 2010 or early this year. This group may now be moving east towards the more populated Haut-Uele district. Though Kony’s whereabouts are notoriously hard to pin down, he was widely believed to be in eastern Central African Republic and South Darfur for much of 2009 and 2010.  If he’s moved into Congo, this could indicate his desire to reconnect with LRA commanders like Ongwen who’ve been operating in Congo.

Some attacks are coordinated and deliberately brutal – not just for survival: Late February attacks on the towns of Bamangana and Naparka are a good example. On February 24, a large, well-armed group of LRA raiders attacked Bamangana, reportedly abducting 30 people and killing eight others.  The attacking force also announced that Joseph Kony was in the Congo and that the LRA would attack the nearby village of Naparka next. LRA forces attacked Naparka the next day, allegedly killing 13 people. In Bamangana, residents said that the LRA also burned a woman alive in front of the community. Similar acts of deliberate brutality have been used by LRA forces in the past to instill fear in communities and discourage civilians to collaborate with military forces or welcome back LRA escapees.

The Congolese military is sustaining significant casualties: LRA groups generally take as few risks as possible, and try to avoid contact with military forces. But the Congolese army (FARDC) has sustained significant casualties so far this year. At least eight FARDC soldiers were killed in the Bamangana and Naparka attacks, and as many as 30 Congolese soldiers have been killed by LRA so far this year. It’s difficult to know whether the LRA is deliberately targeting the FARDC, but the ratio of soldiers to civilians killed is unusually high.  And in Naparka, a local boy was left with a note from the LRA encouraging the Congolese army to stop following the LRA into the bush. The LRA could also be targeting FARDC in order acquire weapons and uniforms.

Attacks are restricting humanitarian access and targeting aid convoys: The LRA has attacked humanitarian distributions in the Congo in the past, and the threat of LRA violence prevents humanitarian groups from accessing as much as one third of the displaced population in northern Congo. LRA attacks forced humanitarian agencies to withdraw from the town of Faradje in mid-February. LRA rebels also attacked truck convoys carrying humanitarian assistance on February 21 and March 6, the latter carrying more than 240 tons of food from the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Tensions between the FARDC and Ugandan military are rising: There have always been tensions between the FARDC and the Ugandan military (UPDF) soldiers operating against the LRA in Congo, especially given the UPDF’s plunder of natural resources during its occupation of eastern Congo from 1998-2003. However, these tensions are on the rise and increasingly public (see this recent BBC piece), fuelled in part by FARDC accusations that the UPDF is once again illegally exploiting natural resources. Further eroding the ability of national military forces to respond to the LRA is a continued UPDF drawdown.  There are now fewer than half the numbers of UPDF troops dedicated to LRA operations than there were in January 2009.

MONUSCO is responding more proactively (maybe): The approximately 1,000 United Nations MONUSCO peacekeepers based in LRA-affected portions of northern Congo have come under frequent criticism for not doing enough to protect civilians from LRA attacks, even given their limited capacity. But recently these troops have taken steps to improve their response, including expanding patrols and setting up a joint coordination cell to improve information flows and coordinate better with the FARDC and the UPDF. This week MONUSCO also temporarily deployed dozens of peacekeepers, including special forces, around Bamangana in response to the late February attacks there. It remains to be seen whether these measures will improve protection of civilians – just last week the LRA abducted three women (who later escaped) from Dungu, where a majority of UN peacekeepers are deployed.

We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.

— Paul

About the Author

Guest Poster
Guest Poster