Darfur: A new sanctuary for LRA rebels?

Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, the feared abductors of children who have spread fear in east-central Africa, are now rumoured to be heading into new terrain in Sudan’s troubled Darfur.

A brutal guerrilla group, whose chief Joseph Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court, the LRA has already expanded into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and south Sudan.

Earlier this year in south Sudan, LRA men attacked several food aid distribution stations, killed hundreds of civilians and kidnapped children for use as soldiers, forcing thousands of people into Western Equatoria.

And two incidents, possibly involving Kony’s men, have been reported in recent weeks in the south’s Bahr al-Ghazal region, which is wedged between the CAR and the Darfur region of western Sudan, sparking the rumours.

South Sudan’s army said the LRA killed two of its men. It also accused it of being behind an attack last week against Darfur refugees in a camp in western Bahr al-Ghazal that killed five people.

“It is the LRA ... They captured 21 people.
Soldiers were able to release the kidnapped people,” said west Bahr al-Ghazal governor Mark Nyipoch, adding it bore the LRA hallmark of of kidnapping children and women.

“Members of the LRA were seen in western Bahr al-Ghazal. I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued into south Darfur,” said south Sudan’s information minister, Paul Mayom.

But some observers doubt the LRA, whose fighters are wanted in the CAR and DRC, would venture any deeper into Sudan.

The Ugandan rebels have therefore “gone up a bit into western Bahr al-Ghazal” but there is no confirmation that they are in Darfur, said one Western diplomat.

“We have no information that the LRA is in South Darfur,” said Fateh Rahman, the region’s head of police.

The LRA in Darfur “is like the Loch Ness monster, everyone talks about it but no one has ever seen it,” said a UN official from the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID).

UNAMID has several bases in Darfur but its presence in South Darfur which borders western Bahr al-Ghazal and the CAR, is limited.

“I’m not saying the LRA is not in Darfur, only that we have no proof it is there,” the official said.

Sudan expert Gerard Prunier was also sceptical. “The LRA are now ‘killers without borders’, but they must still work in something they recognise. At a geographical level, how would they operate” in the Darfur deserts?

“They must be comfortable in their surroundings. When they are in [the forests and bush of] the CAR or Congo, it’s ok, they know it. But Darfur, it’s like being on the moon. I don’t believe it,” he said.

South Sudan’s army—whose relations with the central government are strained—has accused Khartoum of supporting an LRA presence in Darfur, an accusation dismissed by the central government. - AFP

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