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10 Sep 2008 14:58
Uganda’s army on Wednesday urged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and United Nations peacekeepers there to attack Ugandan rebels and force the guerrillas’ elusive leader to sign a peace deal.
Kinshasa sent several hundred soldiers to a remote northern border region this week to try to box in fighters from Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and stop them attacking civilians.
Two years of talks between the group and Uganda’s government collapsed in April after rebel leader Joseph Kony failed to emerge from the Congolese forest to sign a final peace agreement.
Kony is wanted by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for multiple war crimes committed during his 22-year rebellion in northern Uganda.
“What’s true of Kony and the LRA is that they never engage in serious talks unless there’s pressure behind them,” Uganda’s military spokesperson, Major Paddy Ankunda, told reporters.
“The DRC and [UN peacekeepers] Monuc should have dealt with these guys in June. We had cleared them to attack the LRA.”
DRC, Uganda and Sudan agreed a deal in June to launch a joint operation against the rebels, whose fighters have ravaged northern Uganda and destabilised neighbouring parts of oil-producing southern Sudan and mineral-rich eastern DRC.
DRC’s military is expected to deploy about 2 000 soldiers, with logistical support from the UN peacekeepers, to Dungu on the edge of lawless Garamba National Park, which is a stronghold of Kony’s forces.
But a spokesperson for the rebels said the operation could damage peace prospects.
“This is the wrong approach, coming at the wrong time,” chief LRA negotiator David Nyekorach-Matsanga told Reuters in the south Sudanese capital, Juba.
Kony’s rebels are notorious for chopping off limbs and abducting thousands of children in a rebellion that killed tens of thousands of people and displaced about two million more.
Earlier this year, LRA fighters in Garamba also raided Central African Republic, looting homes and abducting civilians.
Monuc, the world’s biggest UN peacekeeping mission, has said it has no immediate plans to deploy peacekeepers directly in combat against the rebels.
In 2006, eight Guatemalan UN special forces troops were killed in a botched raid to capture or kill the then LRA deputy commander, Vincent Otti, in Garamba.
Ankunda accused the rebels of using the shaky peace to rearm and abduct more recruits: “You can say that since they haven’t signed the agreement, they are preparing for an attack.”—Reuters
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