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Christmas at the Forgotten Front
Posted on Dec 18, 2010
By Barry Lando
Two years ago, U.S. troops aiding the Ugandan army helped organize an attack on the LRA but failed to capture its major leaders. The result was catastrophic. Bent on bloody vengeance, the LRA metastasized, carrying out hundreds of raids against isolated villages, not just in Uganda, but across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and the Sudan as well.
No one seemed to give much of a damn except the usual NGO representatives, trying desperately to cope with the situation in the field, often at the risk of their own lives, and trying to get the attention of world leaders who claim to be in an all-out war against terrorism. Problem is, the LRA are not the right brand of terrorists.
If their leader was a radical Muslim instead of a wacky Christian fundamentalist, things would be different. Predator drones or gung-ho mercenaries and Special Forces killer teams would have taken him and his cronies out long ago.
Instead, U.N. peacekeeping forces have more than 80,000 troops stationed in the area trying to end the chaos that has tormented Central Africa for decades. It’s the largest U.N. contingent anywhere, but only 850 of them are in the area where the LRA is active.
As Marcel Stoessel, the Swiss head of Oxfam for the Congo, told me by phone, “Those figures show that the priority is not here, and it should be here, because the LRA is the most active and deadly of all the groups active in this region.”
But it’s hard to blame the U.N. commanders. Their troops are poorly armed, mostly poorly trained (and themselves often feared by the local population) and woefully underequipped. For instance, they lack a modicum of helicopters to patrol a huge region where decent roads are virtually nonexistent. Their annual budget is more than $1.3 billion, which sounds impressive until you consider that the U.S. spends about that much every four days in Afghanistan.
The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Joseph Kony’s arrest more than five years ago, and world leaders have at various times pledged to take action. Yet Kony and his ragtag forces are more feared and deadly now than at any time in the LRA’s 20-year history.
Perversely, Christmas is the season when the LRA has carried out some of its most barbarous acts.
According to a news release just put out by Oxfam and other NGOs operating in the region: “On Christmas Eve 2008 and over the following three weeks, 865 women, men and children were savagely beaten to death and hundreds more abducted by the LRA in northeastern DRC and southern Sudan. ... Between 14 and 17 December 2009, LRA commanders oversaw the killing of more than 300 people. These attacks have largely gone unnoticed by the outside world.”
Says Stoessel, “It is unbelievable that world leaders continue to tolerate brutal violence against some of the most isolated villages in central Africa and that this has been allowed to continue for more than 20 years.”
Fortunately, over the past few years, the depredations of the LRA and the plight of young people in Central Africa have stoked the outrage of thousands of high school and university students in the U.S. who, through two organizations—Invisible Children and Resolve—launched a massive lobbying campaign. In response, the U.S. Congress last spring called for the Obama administration to develop a plan to deal with the LRA scourge. Just this past November, a special task force announced a plan of action.
But so far, it is just a plan, long on promises, short on funding and action.
And now it’s Christmas again.
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