YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading archbishop in Uganda is calling on the Ugandan government to apologize to its neighbors for the ongoing havoc being caused by the Lord Resistance Army, a notorious militia noted for its strange religious beliefs, the use of child soldiers, and numerous atrocities.
In 2006, after a 20-year campaign in northern Uganda, the LRA agreed to leave the country, but then continued its campaign of terror in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“The people in the Central African Republic are suffering from (the atrocities of) the LRA. Where did the LRA come from? I think Uganda has something to apologize for and we need to reconcile with the people of CAR and with the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as with those in South Sudan. For that reason, it is important to accept – yes, the fault has been made, and we have to say sorry for this,” Archbishop John-Baptist Odama said on Vatican Radio.
Odama is the Archbishop of Gulu and president of the Ugandan Episcopal Conference.
His archdiocese, in northern Uganda, suffered greatly at the hands of the LRA, which launched a raid on Gulu in one of its earliest attacks in 1987.
The region suffered the brunt of the LRA’s campaign which aimed to overthrow the government. The LRA was accused of a number of war crimes, including killing civilians, rape, and the kidnapping of thousands of child soldiers.
Making matters worse, the national army was also accused of atrocities during its campaign to combat the militia.
By 2006, when the LRA mostly fled the country, at least 1.7 million people had been driven from their homes in northern Uganda.
The two-decades long civil war in Uganda led to the killing of at least 28,000 people and the abduction of 38,000 children.
However, the terror campaign continued after the LRA was forced from its homeland.
On August 11, 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that the LRA had “abducted more than 697 adults and children in a largely unreported campaign in the Central African Republic and the neighboring Bas Uele district of northern Democratic Republic of Congo over the past 18 months.”
About a third of those abducted were children who were then forced to serve as child soldiers or used for sex by the group’s fighters.
According to the rights group, at least 225 adults and children were killed “often by crushing their skulls with clubs.”
The Ugandan army, with the assistance of United States Special Forces, pursued the LRA, and its leader Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
However, claiming the militia had been decimated and no longer posed a substantial threat, the two countries ceased their military operation in April this year.
It is estimated the LRA has been reduced from a force of over 3,000 fighters to a remnant of 100 core members, including Kony.
Three of his top four lieutenants are believed to have been killed, while the fourth – Dominic Ongwen –surrendered in 2014, and is now facing trial at the ICC on 70 charges, including murder, torture, and sexual slavery.
(Odama describes Ongwen as “both a victim because he was abducted and a perpetrator having committed crimes against humanity.”)
“As far as we are concerned, we’ve already achieved our mission,” said Ugandan Brig. Gen. Richard Karemire. “The LRA no longer poses a threat to us as Uganda.”
However, it continues to be a threat to other countries.
“I am concerned about the impact of this withdrawal as it will create a security vacuum that may be exploited by the LRA and other armed groups operating in the region,” said François Louncény Fall, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the subregion.
His colleague, Abou Moussa, head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, said last month, “Even a small LRA is dangerous.”
The UN has reported “the, security situation has seriously deteriorated” and there has been a surge in kidnappings by the LRA in both Central African Republic and the Congo since the withdrawal of Ugandan and U.S. troops.
Just last month, an attack blamed on the Lord’s Resistance Army killed several people in eastern Congo, while displacing over 600 people.
Odama has challenged the Ugandan government to join forces with countries where the LRA is now operating so the last vestiges of the organization can be removed.