The Triangle of Death: Central Africa’s New Hub of Regional Instability

Andrew McGregor

December 16, 2010

As peacekeepers pull out of a notorious and remote corner of Africa known as the “Triangle of Death,” bands of gunmen are pouring in to fill the void in security. At the core of this problem is a former French colony that became a nation-state despite a lack of viability and is now rapidly collapsing, offering guerrillas, terrorists and outlaws a relatively risk-free haven to conduct their operations.

Birao 1(BBC)


A land-locked nation of 4.4 million people, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries on earth. As Oubangui-Chari, it was part of the French African Empire from the late 19th century to 1960, when it gained independence as the Central African Republic (CAR). The region’s pre-independence leader, Barthelmy Boganda, did not believe the CAR could become a viable independent state and instead sought to make it part of an envisioned “United States of Latin Africa,” uniting the former Central African colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain. Boganda and his dream of a united Central Africa died shortly before independence when his plane exploded in 1959. Agriculture dominates the local economy, though there are a number of unexploited resource reserves.  Forestry and diamond mining account for most of the CAR’s slim export revenue. France protects its interests and citizens in Bangui with an infantry company of 200 legionnaires belonging to the 2e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie.

The CAR is best known in the West for the antics and atrocities of its former ruler, “Emperor” Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a former captain in the French Colonial Army who squandered the nation’s meager wealth in ruling the re-named “Central African Empire” in an imperial style from 1966 to 1979.  In recent years the political violence in the CAR has become closely tied to violence in neighboring Chad and Darfur.

Battle for Birao

On November 24, rebels belonging to the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice – CPJP), supported by fighters formerly belonging to Chadian rebel movements, took the strategically important town of Birao and captured its military commander after a short battle with troops of the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (Central African Armed Forces – FACA) (AFP, November 24). The rebels had previously attacked Birao in July. The CPJP began operations in 2009 and since then has seized a number of towns and villages in the CAR’s northeast (BBC, November 27, 2009). Rebels claimed the defeated FACA troops belonged to the Presidential Guard, the only CAR military unit of any real worth (AFP, November 25).

Heavy rains prevented CAR forces from returning to the town after it was seized, though most of the country’s best troops were busy in the capital of Bangui preparing for the December 1 military parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of the independence of the CAR. On taking Birao, CPJP head of operations Abdoulaye Issene declared, “We have seized 48 prisoners and recovered a big stock of weapons. Birao is taken, but our target is Bangui” (Reuters, November 24).

Units of Chad’s military based in Abéché crossed the border with the CAR in late November on their way to Birao. A CPJP statement described a Chadian force including tanks and helicopters that began to bomb Birao, forcing the evacuation of the rebels on November 30. Chad’s army chief-of-staff, General Alain Mbaidodenande Djionadji, told reporters, “We affirm that the Chadian Army has exercised its right of pursuit by destroying the remaining mercenaries who have involved themselves with unidentified adventurers who were holed up in Birao” (AFP, November 30; Reuters, December 1). The town’s population of 8,000 was forced to spend a week in the bush without water, food or shelter. Food stocks kept in the town were looted during the fighting, leaving nothing for returnees (IRIN, December 7).

In a belated attempt to assert sovereignty in the area, CAR government spokesmen were quick to claim the retaking of Birao as a victory for the FACA, saying 65 rebels had been killed in the battle. According to CAR spokesman Fidele Ngouandjika, CAR troops had retaken the town without the help of foreign forces, “contrary to the mendacious allegations” broadcast by foreign media sources (AFP, December 2). This declaration ran contrary to statements from both the Chadian military and the CPJP.

The former leader of the CPJP was Charles Massi, the minister of mines and agriculture in the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé, who was supported by Libyan troops and 300 Congolese rebels under Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Massi took to the bush after Patassé’s government was overthrown in 2003 by General François Bozizé, the current ruler of the CAR.  After being arrested by Chadian authorities, Massi is believed to have died in January 2010 after extensive torture at the Central African prison of Bossembélé. President Bozizé has close ties with the Chadian regime of Idriss Déby and came to power with Chadian military assistance. Chad supplies many members of the Presidential Guard, the best-equipped element of the CAR armed forces.

The Peacekeepers Depart

A UN peacekeeping mission, the Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), has provided security along the borders of Chad, Darfur and the CAR since 2007. The severely underfunded and undermanned mission has roughly 1,500 uniformed military and police personnel drawn from 35 nations under the military command of Senegal’s Major-General Elhadji Mouhamedou Kandji. The military component of the force was authorized to succeed operations of the European Union’s EUFOR Tchad/RCA, a peacekeeping force of 3,700 troops under the command of Ireland’s Lieutenant General Patrick Nash. The majority of the force came from France, with Ireland and Poland also making major contributions. EUFOR Tchad/RCA ended operations in March 2009. Birao was the site of a small EUFOR Tchad/RCA base during the EU deployment.

The decision to withdraw MINURCAT came in May after Chad said it would assume responsibility for security in its territory after criticizing MINURCAT’s slow deployment and apparent inability to provide security for civilians. Though the peacekeepers had little effect in the northeastern CAR due to small numbers and a limited mandate that prevented them from tackling local bandits, their full withdrawal (scheduled for December 31, though operations ended on October 15) will leave security in the region solely in the hands of the CAR armed forces, which has very little presence in the area. Most of the army, including its best-equipped troops, is kept in the capital of Bangui as protection for the regime against coups, insurrections or civil unrest. President Bozizé is also believed to oppose the presence of international peacekeepers in the CAR, preferring instead to seek financial support for the expansion of the CAR’s armed forces. At the moment, the president cannot count on the complete loyalty of his poorly-equipped army. There are reports of disobedience and refusals by some troops to deploy to dangerous areas of the country, leading to purges of disloyal soldiers (Centrafrique Presse, March 24, March 29; Radio Ndeke Luka [Bangui], March 26).

In the absence of MINURCAT, a military protocol was signed between Bangui and Khartoum to create a joint border patrol to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels in the region. The Sudanese component includes former Darfur rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) under the command of Minni Minawi, who joined the government in 2006 (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The “Triangle of Death”

Between 1850 and 1910 most of what is today the northeastern part of the CAR was largely depopulated by immense slave raids carried out by the Sultans of Dar Kuti, Dar Wadai and Dar Baguirmi.  Though it was no longer called slavery, French colonial forces continued the tradition of forced labor in the 20th century. Birao remains highly isolated from the rest of the CAR (which has less than 500 km of paved roads) and has even been used as a place of internal exile. The town changed hands several times in 2006-2007 in fighting between the rebel Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity – UFDR) and CAR troops backed by French forces stationed in Bangui. After the negotiation of a peace agreement with the UFDR, Birao was occupied by EUFOR Tchad/RCA troops, succeeded by a MINURCAT detachment, which turned the town over to the FACA on November 15.

Birao 2Forces Armées Centrafricaines Soldier in Birao – note row of amulets worn on his lanyard.

Today, nearly three million displaced people live in the triangle formed by the borders of Sudan, Chad and the CAR. Without government control, civilians of the region have suffered widespread abuses at the hands of roving gangs of gunmen with or without political pretensions who replenish their ranks, labor force and harems by abducting children. Development of the CAR’s northeast has been ignored by successive CAR governments, most of which have concerned themselves solely with enriching members of the regime and their tribal supporters. The government has attempted to farm out security by raising and backing local vigilante groups, but even these have posed a threat to local security. An estimated 30,000 refugees from Sudan and the DRC are present in the CAR, many dwelling in the bush far from humanitarian relief.

The collapse of the Chadian insurgency after its Sudanese sponsors negotiated a peace agreement with N’Djamena left a large number of well-armed fighters looking for new bases in the CAR rather than returning to Chad to take advantage of an amnesty. After most of the leaders of the Darfur-based Chadian insurgent groups were expelled by Khartoum to Doha, these groups quickly deteriorated into undisciplined and leaderless gangs. Among those believed to be heading to the CAR are fighters from the Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) under the command of Adam Yacoub (Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The Lord’s Resistance Army

An ongoing and seemingly irresolvable security threat in the region is posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a decades-old insurgent group that has gradually morphed into a loosely organized terror-spreading group that has no other ideology other than ensuring its continued existence through rape, murder, kidnapping, looting and torture. The Acholi-based LRA has its roots in the 1986 overthrow of Uganda’s Acholi ruler, General Tito Okello, by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), but has long ceased any pretense of representing the Acholi community.

Since the failure of the U.S. supported Ugandan military operation “Lightning Thunder” in December 2008 (which split the LRA into a number of different groups rather than eliminate it), the movement has continued its depredations in southwest Sudan, the CAR and the northeastern DRC. In the last two years the LRA has killed over 2,000 people in the CAR’s northeast and abducted thousands more. Though LRA leader Joseph Kony no longer has effective control of his scattered fighters, his divided movement continues to carry out atrocities and abductions under various sub-commanders. Units of the LRA attacked Birao in October, looting shops and abducting women (AFP, November 24).

CAR Defense Minister Jean-François Bozizé, nephew of President François Bozizé, has denounced LRA atrocities in the nation, including “incursions, pillage, massacres, rapes, hostage takings and villages that are systematically burned down,” while insisting that “the LRA is now a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda” (AFP, October 14).

The CAR has also joined in forming a joint military brigade with forces from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, intended to complete the elimination of the LRA (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19). However, with South Sudanese independence looking like the sure result of next month’s independence referendum, Khartoum may choose to continue using the LRA as a regional proxy to threaten the security of those nations choosing to support the separation of South Sudan.

A new U.S. strategy designed to eliminate the threats posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability has four stated objectives:

• Increase protection of civilians.

• Apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his sub-commanders.

• Promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the remaining LRA fighters.

• Increase humanitarian access and provide relief to affected communities. [1]


Lying outside of any effective government control, Birao and the rest of the CAR’s northeast region offer insurgent groups, bandits, deserters and renegades an appealing mix of isolation from the CAR state infrastructure and proximity to the borders with Chad and Sudan.

Presidential elections, which have been postponed four times this year, are now set to take place on January 23, 2011, only weeks after neighboring South Sudan’s independence referendum, an event with profound implications for regional security. With the two leading candidates being Bozizé and his ousted predecessor Patassé, there appears to be little chance for substantial change in the CAR. A third possible candidate, former prime minister Martin Ziguele, has been accused by government spokesmen of being a terrorist and the “new de facto president of the CPJP,” though no evidence was produced to support this charge (AFP, September 24).


1.  “Letter from the President on the Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” November 24, 2010,


This article first appeared in the December 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Surrendered Commander Says Lord’s Resistance Army Sponsored by Khartoum

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, November 25, 2009

Senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Arop has given an interview to a Kampala daily after having been sent to the Ugandan capital following his surrender to Ugandan troops operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (New Vision [Kampala], November 23). Arop is best known for directing a massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje on Christmas Day, 2008 (see Terrorism Monitor, November 13). He is now engaged in helping Ugandan forces convince other LRA fighters to surrender. During the interview, he showed reporters wounds from nine bullets, three of which are still inside his body.

LRA 1Former LRA field commander Charles Arop

Following rumors circulating in October that the LRA had crossed into south Darfur, Arop said it was the intention of LRA leader Joseph Kony to move along the Central African Republic border to Chad and then into Darfur to meet officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), long reputed to be the LRA’s sponsors. Kony “told me he was going to meet Fadil, the SAF officer who coordinates LRA activities. He wants the Arabs to give him logistical support and a safe haven” (see Terrorism Monitor, October 23). Arop says Kony urged all LRA units to make their way to Darfur and report to the first “Arab” military post they came across.

Despite a disastrous start to last year’s Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint operation of the militaries of Uganda, the DRC and Southern Sudan, continuous pressure by the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) has eliminated many LRA fighters and compelled others to turn themselves in after suffering from exhaustion and hunger. Arop estimates only half of the force of 500 LRA fighters that existed last December are still in the field. “Kony is desperate. Things are really hard. We were constantly on the move. Sometimes we would not rest for a week. The UPDF was pursuing us everywhere.”

Arop suggests it was only a delay by the UPDF in following the LRA into the Central African Republic (CAR) that allowed the LRA a chance to regroup and abduct more people for use as fighters, laborers or sex slaves. Like most LRA fighters, Arop was himself an abductee, taken from his home in Gulu at age 16. Though the LRA began as a Christian fundamentalist/Acholi nationalist movement, there are few Acholis still left in the LRA ranks, with most fighters representing a hodgepodge of individuals abducted from various tribes in Uganda, South Sudan, the DRC and the CAR.

LRA 2Lord’s Resistance Army Fighters

Arop describes LRA leader Joseph Kony as a man obsessed with his own survival. Since Operation Lightning Thunder began, Kony has stopped communicating by phone, sending messages only by couriers on foot or by sending his aides up to 20 kilometers away before they are allowed to use their phones. Arop confirmed earlier reports that Kony never takes part in battles. “Whenever attacked, he runs away and leaves his fighters to fight back. I have never seen him fight.”

The LRA commander elaborated on last year’s horrific Christmas Day massacre at Faradje, describing the attack as retaliation ordered by Kony for the participation of Congolese troops in Operation Lightning Thunder. Arop claims his own role was carried out under duress. “Kony gave 30 of his bodyguards to join my group. There was no way I could not execute the mission. They had a phone and were constantly reporting to him. If I had refused, I would have been killed… It was painful, but you have to do it. I want to ask the relatives of those we killed to forgive me. Whatever we did, we did it under orders.”

According to Arop, the LRA received most of its weapons and military supplies from the SAF. Large caches of arms were concealed in the river banks and hills of South Sudan. “There are still a lot of arms caches the UPDF has not yet unearthed.” Other weapons and supplies were recently seized from UN troops in the DRC and game rangers in Garamba National Park, where the LRA took refuge after the start of Operation Lightning Thunder.

This article first appeared in the November 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.


Cracks Begin to Show in the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009

A sustained cross-border campaign by Uganda’s Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in cooperation with the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan appears to be yielding results nearly a year after Operation Lightning Thunder began.

LRA PatrolLRA Patrol

The perilous condition of the scattered LRA forces was best revealed by the surrender of senior LRA commander Charles Arop, notorious for his supervision of a typically senseless LRA massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje using axes, clubs and machetes on Christmas Day, 2008 (New Vision [Kampala], November 5; AFP, November 5).  Continuing in a means of propagating itself, the LRA kidnapped 160 children for use as labor, sex-slaves or fighters (the latter must usually murder their own parents as part of the LRA’s method of breaking the mental resistance of its recruits). Arop recently commanded a force of over 100 fighters, but continuous attacks by the Ugandans devastated his command. Referring to Arop’s surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Felix Kulayigye of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) noted, “He was only left with one fighter, so what choice did he have?” (AFP, November 5).

Among those to come in recently was the last of the four wives of feared LRA Brigade Commander Okello Kalalang, who was killed in a September bombardment of LRA positions in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Other rebels are reportedly eager to surrender due to the deteriorating conditions in LRA camps, though all are aware that escape attempts are punished by the LRA with instant death. The breakup of the LRA into smaller units following the onslaught of Operation Lightning Thunder has weakened the movement’s capabilities, with the small units constantly on the move. According to the recently surrendered Lieutenant Francis Opira; “Life has become hard. We are few, which forces us to do a lot of work. Walking in the long bushes has also become tiresome” (New Vision, November 3). The large number of LRA officers and NCOs that have turned themselves in demonstrates a loosening of the iron discipline that once kept the LRA in the field despite a distinct absence of popular support. Without constant indoctrination, many of the abductees who form the majority of the LRA’s strength have begun to think of a return home under the lenient conditions being offered by Kampala.

A group of nine LRA members who surrendered following a late October battle in the Central African Republic cited a power vacuum in the leadership and a shortage of food in the bush as the main reasons behind their submission. All nine were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Otto Malaba and Lieutenant Ochen, who continue to operate along the DRC-CAR border (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 2).

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Is Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army Operating in Darfur?

Andrew McGregor

October 23, 2009

Various reports are claiming that the guerrillas of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have moved in bulk into South Darfur, where they will allegedly seek supplies and arms from the Sudanese government. The movement into Darfur was reported to have been compelled by helicopter attacks on the LRA by Ugandan Special Forces units operating out of Yambio, Sudan as part of a tripartite (DRC, Uganda, South Sudan) military offensive against the brutal fighters led by the notorious Joseph Kony.

Arrow BoysArrow Boys of Western Equatoria

Most prominent of these was a front page cover story in Britain’s Independent daily asserting Kony and a significant part of his forces had crossed into southern Darfur (Independent, October 17). The main source in the story was a statement by Major-General Kuol Deim Kuol of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan that was carried in the Sudanese press two weeks earlier (Sudan Tribune, September 28). General Kuol claimed the bulk of the LRA forces had crossed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) into southern Darfur, where they had clashed with the local population. The General maintained SPLA reconnaissance groups had tracked the LRA across the border, where he suggested they would seek a safe base for their wives and families while seeking arms and ammunition from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).

However, the Independent reported Kuol saying hunters had encountered LRA fighters near the town of Tumbara. There is no such place in southern Darfur, though there is a Tambura in the southern part of Western Equatoria (South Sudan), close to the LRA’s operations in the CAR, but far from the border with southern Darfur. The Independent added that the LRA had moved into the “Raga district in southern Darfur.” Raga is in Western Bahr al-Ghazal, also part of South Sudan rather than Darfur. The director of communications from the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) declared the mission had spent days going over reports of an LRA presence, but had failed to find any “hard evidence” to confirm them (Independent, October 17).

The original Sudan Tribune story said that “Kuol suggested that Kony is seeking protection from the Sudanese army and may be used to fight the Darfur rebels” (September 28). Basing its report on the Sudan Tribune story, the Kampala Observer claimed several days later that Kuol had stated that the LRA were fighting as mercenaries alongside the Janjaweed militia in Darfur (October 4).

Elsewhere, there were reports of LRA fighters killing two women in raids near Yambio in Western Equatoria at the same time the main group was reported to be crossing into Darfur (Sudan Tribune, October 16; New Vision [Kampala], October 16). The fighters were driven off by members of the lightly armed Arrow Boys, a local self-defense group that combats LRA incursions with weapons such as spears and bows and arrows. Yambio is roughly 650 kilometers from the border with South Darfur as the crow flies – much farther in rough and road-less bush country. If these reports are correct, they would suggest either the main body of the LRA has abandoned elements of its forces in the move north, or is still operating in the area where the DRC, CAR and Sudan borders intersect. Other LRA units were simultaneously reported to be carrying out new attacks in the northern DRC (BBC, October 14).

The presence in Darfur of the LRA, which is generally believed to have once been armed and funded by Khartoum in retaliation for Kampala’s support of the SPLA, would be a major embarrassment to President Omar al-Bashir, who is currently facing Darfur-related war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Salah Gosh, a senior presidential advisor who has been tied to war crimes in Darfur in his former capacity as director of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services, accused the SPLA of issuing “fabrications,” adding, “The SPLA knows very well where Kony is” (Sudan Tribune, September 28).

The reports of an LRA entry into Darfur came as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni invited Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to an AU summit on refugees held this week in Kampala (New Vision, October 14). Despite Uganda being a signatory to the ICC statute—and thus obligated to enforce the ICC warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest—Museveni said such an act would not be “according to the culture of the Great Lakes region in Africa… We do not believe in surprise attacks.” An ICC representative insisted Uganda had a responsibility to carry out the arrest (Daily Monitor, October 16). The issue was resolved when Sudan decided to send two junior ministers to the summit instead (New Vision, October 19). Sudan has also expressed its willingness to share its expertise in the oil sector with Uganda as the latter begins development of a one-billion barrel oil reserve discovered on the Albertine rift in Uganda (Dow Jones Newswire, October 1; Sudan Tribune, October 2).

This article first appeared in the October 23, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

South Sudanese Military Vows to Destroy the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

September 10, 2009

After being accused of inactivity by residents of Western Equatoria and various humanitarian NGOs, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) will commit additional troops including its Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army threat to South Sudan. The northern Ugandan group was formed in 1987 and claims to seek the establishment of a Ugandan government based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. The movement, led by Joseph Kony, has employed remarkable levels of violence and cruelty in its pursuit of these aims. Since being driven from Uganda it has spread out over South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).

SPLA TroopsSPLA Troops in the Field (AFP)

The LRA, once intended to represent Acholi interests in northern Uganda, now appears to have lost the last vestiges of ideological purpose, carrying out atrocities without provocation in several African states but no longer operating in Uganda. Despite determined efforts by Uganda and its regional partners to resolve the conflict, LRA leader Joseph Kony has backed away from every effort to negotiate a settlement.

At present, the 8th Brigade of the SPLA’s 2nd Division (about 3,000 troops) is hunting the Ugandan rebels in platoon-strength units meant to intercept LRA groups of 5 to 10 people over wide swathes of bush country. According to SPLA spokesman Major General Kuol Deim Kuol, the LRA “come to attack the people and take the food and escape back to hide inside the forest in the DRC, like rats… we are seriously planning to track them down and attack them inside their den in the Garamba forests where they run to” (Sudan Radio Service, September 3).

The SPLA is responsible for security in South Sudan under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Khartoum. The Khartoum regime’s former sponsorship of the LRA as a counter to Uganda’s sponsorship of the SPLA during the civil war (1983-2005) has created suspicion in some Southerners that the ruling Islamist National Congress Party (NCP) continues to use the LRA to spread insecurity in the South as the region nears a crucial 2011 referendum on independence. SPLA Major General Kuol Deim Kuol is among them. “We [the SPLA] are saying that the NCP is still keeping up their old good relationship with the LRA. As you know, Joseph Kony [the LRA leader] is the NCP’s darling; he was residing here in Juba [capital of Equatoria Province] until the SPLA came to Juba in 2005 – all this time Kony was staying here with the NCP.” The rebel movement suspended all peace talks in Juba on September 4 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4).

Following the revision of AMISOM’s mandate in Somalia, which changed from “peacekeeping” to “peace-enforcement” in early September to allow it to engage in combat against insurgent forces, the United Nations is considering a similar revision to the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo (MONUC), which would allow it to join the military campaign against the LRA (Garowe Online [Puntland], September 2; New Vision [Kampala], August 27). Changes to the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) are also being contemplated.

The fighting in Western Equatoria is particularly brutal – reportedly short on ammunition, the LRA continues to practice mutilations and amputations with weapons such as machetes to terrify helpless civilians. Local militias that formed to fend off the LRA marauders have also taken to mutilating LRA prisoners in revenge and to dissuade their comrades from returning (Sudan Tribune, March 6).  Known as the “Arrow Boys,” the militias use traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, machetes and clubs to defend their homes from the LRA (Sudan Tribune, January 14, 2008).

The operation against the LRA has now been extended to the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) (The Monitor [Kampala], September 8). According to a UPDF spokesman, the CAR invited the Ugandans to pursue LRA units in the CAR, where the administration controls little of the country outside the capital of Bangui (New Vision [Kampala], September 7). Kony led nearly 200 followers into the southeastern CAR in February 2008, forming a base at Gbassiguri for forays into South Sudan.

A bipartisan bill, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate in May, would require the Obama administration to act on the elimination of the LRA threat and the apprehension or removal of Joseph Kony and his top commanders. Over 50 UPDF officers arrived in Djibouti on September 8 to receive advanced training from the U.S. military (Monitor [Kampala], September 8). Most of the officers are expected to join Ugandan forces in Somalia after the training, but some might be committed to the two decade-old campaign to destroy the LRA.

This article first appeared in the September 10, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Leadership Bloodbath Marks Failure of Uganda’s LRA to Sign Peace Treaty

Andrew McGregor

April 16, 2008

For two decades Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has plunged northern Uganda into a nightmare of atrocities, sadistic mutilations, child-kidnappings and sexual slavery, all in the name of establishing a Ugandan government based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. After years of fighting and recent internal dissension, the elusive LRA consists today of little more than 800 individuals, including kidnapped children and young women abducted and given as rewards to loyal LRA commanders. At least half its fighters are believed to be children kidnapped from north Uganda, though many older fighters appear to be drawn by opportunities for looting or even commitment to the cause of Acholi rights.



The Acholi-based LRA has its roots in the 1986 overthrow of Uganda’s Acholi ruler, General Tito Okello, by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA). The Acholi are a sub-group of the Luo people of South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal region who migrated to northern Uganda several centuries ago. Traditionally a dominant force in the Ugandan army, Acholi who feared a loss of influence in the new regime started a host of insurgent groups in north Uganda, many with religious and millennial overtones, such as Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement. Infused with religious zeal, these movements initially adopted bizarre and frequently suicidal military methods such as using holy water to deflect bullets and attacking in cross-shaped formations.

LRA political manifestos, often written by diaspora Acholis, have had little resonance, partly because of successful attempts by the Kampala government to depict the LRA leadership as irrational and obsessed by religious fundamentalism. Typically these statements contain detailed criticism of Museveni’s one-party rule and call for Ugandan federalism, multi-party politics, free elections and broad political reforms [1].

LRA leader Joseph Kony failed to show up on April 10 for the long-awaited signing of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA), designed to bring a negotiated end to years of brutal violence in north Uganda. According to Ugandan government negotiators, all five phases of the complex agreement have been settled and all that remains is the ceremonial signing that will end the LRA’s 21-year “insurgency.” Kony’s failure to appear and sign the peace agreement may mark a bitter conclusion to two years of intensive negotiations brokered by Riek Machar, a former Nuer militia leader and current vice-president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). With the Juba ceasefire agreement of August 2006 set to end on April 16, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has indicated the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) may be ready to resume operations against the LRA (New Vision [Kampala], April 14; Sudan Tribune, April 14).

Supported since 1994 by the Sudanese government as a proxy in Khartoum’s war against the Ugandan-backed Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in south Sudan, the conclusion of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) brought an end to the civil war and ended Khartoum’s need for the LRA. No longer secure in their bases along the Sudanese side of the border with Uganda, the LRA moved into the wilds of Garamba National Park in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In February Kony led nearly 200 followers into the southeastern Central African Republic (CAR), where they established a new base at Gbassiguri. Once settled, they attacked the CAR village of Obo in early March, abducting over 100 children and adolescents (Daily Monitor [Kampala], March 12; April 10). There are unverified reports that Kony’s group has joined up with a Chadian rebel movement also using the CAR as a base (New Vision, March 23). The area in which the LRA has settled is controlled by the rebel People’s Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (PARRD) which claims to be fighting the CAR government of President Francois Bozize. Both the Chadian rebels and the PARDD are alleged to be supported by Khartoum (Daily Monitor, February 26).

Kony appears to be using his new base in the CAR to attack his former hosts in South Sudan; on February 19 about 400 LRA fighters raided the Western Equatorian town of Source Yubu, killing seven SPLA soldiers and 11 civilians while abducting 27 people (New Vision, February 27).

The ceasefire agreement calls for all LRA fighters to assemble at Ri-Kwangba, in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria province, for final disarmament and demobilization. Some fighters have gathered nearby, but remain in the bush except for collecting their food rations. Most of Kony’s commanders and several hundred fighters appear to have remained behind at Gbassiguri rather than come in to Ri-Kwangba.

Kony’s chief negotiator, David Nyekorach Matsanga, claimed that the LRA leader had come in from the CAR and was in the bush nearby, but later admitted that he had had no contact with Kony for four days before the aborted signing of the FPA. The UK-based Matsanga was arrested by South Sudanese troops on his way to Juba airport on April 13 after being fired as chief negotiator by Kony. Matsanga was carrying $20,000 in cash and a letter to Kony from Yoweri Museveni (Sudan Tribune, April 14).

Kony has repeatedly said that a peace agreement is only possible if the 2005 International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments against him are dropped. To accommodate Kony and other LRA leaders, Uganda’s negotiators have proposed a mixture of mato oput (the traditional Acholi system of reconciliation rituals) for lesser crimes and recourse to a special Ugandan High Court for more serious offenses. The use of mato oput, which emphasizes reconciliation rather than punishment, is favored by Uganda’s chief justice, Benjamin Odoki, as well as many Acholi elders who are desperate for an end to the years of LRA terror and often ruthless retaliation from the UPDF (New Vision, May 17, 2007). Nearly two million internally displaced people are also ready to forgo ICC justice in order to return to their homes. The High Court could still charge Kony with various penalties subject to the death penalty, such as treason, murder and rape (Daily Monitor, February 20).

Having been invited into the process by the Ugandan government in 2005, however, the ICC is not so easy to dismiss when it becomes inconvenient. When the LRA began to move out of its traditional area of operations along the Sudanese-Ugandan border, Uganda invited international assistance through the ICC. The ICC responded by issuing indictments for war crimes and crimes against humanity against Kony and four other LRA leaders: Okot Odhiambo, Vincent Otti, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya. Official Ugandan efforts to have the ICC drop the charges have failed; even Riek Machar’s attempt to depict the ICC as “European justice” has had no impact. Two lawyers representing the LRA have arrived in The Hague to file for the withdrawal of the indictments (New Vision, March 19). Under ICC rules, Kampala cannot request the suspension of arrest warrants once issued, even if Uganda were to reverse the ratification of its agreement to sign on to the ICC.

LRA BLate LRA Second-in-Command Okot Odhiambo

With the apparently aimless LRA stripped of its major sponsor and forced farther and farther from its north Ugandan homeland, there is intense internal pressure within the movement to conclude some sort of peace agreement with the Ugandan government. Over the last year Kony has typically dealt with these challenges through bloodshed within his own movement, culminating in the massacre last week in Garamba National Park of his deputy, Okot Odhiambo, and eight other commanders (Daily Monitor, April 14; AP, April 15). Of the five LRA leaders originally charged by the ICC, only Kony and Dominic Ongwen remain alive. Before his execution by Kony last October, LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti was a personal friend of Riek Machar and an advocate of negotiating a peace agreement. Several Otti loyalists surrendered to South Sudanese authorities in 2007 while Otti and his remaining followers were eliminated during and after a gun battle with Kony loyalists (Sudan Tribune, October 23, 2007; Reuters, December 1, 2007; Sudan Tribune, January 24). Raska Lukwiya was killed by the UPDF in August 2006.

There are signs that the continued survival of the LRA is in part due to corruption within the UPDF that has aided and at times abetted Kony’s movement. An ongoing investigation into the commanders of the UPDF’s 4th and 5th Divisions—operating in north Uganda—has revealed that as much of 50 percent of the strength of these units consisted of “ghost soldiers,” non-existent troops for whom salary was still drawn from the central government. The unneeded arms issued for these “ghost soldiers” may have been sold to the LRA for cash. Major-General James Kazini and two other senior officers were sent to prison late last month after being described by the committee of investigation as “conflict entrepreneurs” (Daily Monitor, March 31). There are also charges that Ugandan troops have misused permission given to mount cross-border operations against the LRA in Southern Sudan (Operation “Iron Fist”) to harvest valuable teak forests (VOA, September 29, 2007). The LRA has also been used in an attempt by Uganda to tap into funds available for fighting the War on Terrorism; according to Uganda’s External Security Organization (ESO) Director-General Robert Masolo: “You will recall that bin Laden was training the LRA into killer squads in Sudan, alongside other al-Qaeda terrorists who he was exporting to other parts of the world” (New Vision, June 12, 2007).

There are suggestions that the FPA might be signed in the absence of Joseph Kony, though such an act would be essentially meaningless as Kony’s brigands continue to raid isolated villages in the CAR and DRC. President Museveni has warned that the rebels can only expect to save themselves through signing the FPA: “If they don’t, they will perish” (New Vision, March 10). Kony’s refusal to appear has been a major embarrassment for Kampala and could be the signal for an all-out offensive against the movement to be carried out in cooperation with DRC authorities, who are also trying to bring an end to lawlessness in the eastern Congo.

This article first appeared in the April 16, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus


1. Mareike Schomerus, “The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: A History and Overview,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2007.