- May 12, 2014
- News & Analysis
Last week a report from UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon touched off a round of news headlines by stating that “credible sources suggest that Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and senior Lord’s Resistance Army commanders have recently returned to seek safe haven in Sudanese-controlled areas of the [Kafia Kingi] enclave.” We’ll likely see more articles this week, as the UN Security Council released its statement in response to the report and included several references to LRA activity in Kafia Kingi.
The SG and the Council deserve kudos for including this information, despite political pressure from Russia and China and Sudan’s reflexive denial that the LRA is operating in Kafia Kingi. But if this all seems familiar, don’t worry: You’re not crazy. There was a similar cycle of news headlines in November 2013, following similar information included in the SG’s report on the LRA and the subsequent Council statement. It’s almost a tradition now for the UN to report this information every six months and for Sudan to deny it*.
Unfortunately, in the past these statements haven’t been followed up by much action. The LRA is simply not a significant priority for US, UN, and AU diplomats who must use their limited leverage with Khartoum to engage on the crisis in Darfur and on Sudan’s relations with South Sudan. The UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur has not conducted any investigations of reported LRA activity in the Kafia Kingi enclave for similar reasons**. UN and AU officials have also done very little to investigate reports of LRA activity in northeastern CAR that could shed light on whether Kony and other senior LRA officers are operating in the neighboring Kafia Kingi enclave. With limited capacity and a mandate to address the broader crisis in the CAR, they simply haven’t been able to do so.
With diplomatic efforts to engage Sudan stalled, Ugandan troops assigned to the AU’s counter-LRA force have taken a more direct approach by covertly attacking LRA positions in Kafia Kingi in March 2013. Their efforts have disrupted the LRA’s camps there, but the Ugandans don’t have the intelligence or mobility assets needed to plan consistent, effective operations there.
There is some reason to hope that the LRA won’t be allowed to enjoy safe haven in Kafia Kingi forever. Long-range Osprey aircraft operated by US military pilots may help Ugandan troops reach the area, but only if their periodic deployments are timed with fresh intelligence on the LRA’s whereabouts. Information gathering on the CAR side of the border may improve soon, as the AU (soon-to-be UN) peacekeeping mission in the CAR slowly marches towards currently inaccessible areas in the northeast of the country. This will be especially important, as the SG’s and Council’s most recent releases includes disturbing new allegations that LRA officers are trading in supplies and military intelligence with ex-Seleka officers there***.
But the prospects of constructive diplomatic engagement with Sudan on pushing the LRA out of Kafia Kingi seem less hopeful than they did a year ago when the LRA’s presence there first became public. Unless we see a decisive response from the international community to these most recent reports, mark down this November for another round of news stories about how the LRA is still operating in Kafia Kingi.
* It’s worth noting that the SG’s report specified that the evidence suggests the LRA is operating in “Sudanese-controlled” areas of Kafia Kingi, a detail not included in previous reports.
** It’s also worth noting that the Council’s statement urged UN peacekeeping missions in LRA-affected areas (UNAMID, MONUSCO, MINUSCA, and UNMISS) to “collect and share information on LRA movements with relevant partners.” Previous statements had only urged UN missions to share information. To LRA nerds, this represents a subtle but important move by the Council to urge UN missions to be more proactive in investigating LRA activity.
*** Two relevant sections from the SG’s report:
- “It is also suspected that some ex-Seleka combatants and some community leaders may be in collusion with the Lord’s Resistance Army and may be providing the group with information about Regional Task Force operations and supplies, including arms and ammunition.”
- “Armed Janjaweed militias and pastoralists, who move throughout southern Darfur to the Central African Republic, are an additional source of insecurity as these groups occasionally clash with the Regional Task Force and are suspected of providing information to the Lord’s Resistance Army regarding Regional Task Force troop movement.”