Activists Decry Uganda Congo Offensive

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[Global: Africa]

KAMPALA, 15 December 2008----Peace activists in northern Uganda have criticized a weekend air and ground assault by the armed forces of Uganda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against several Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) camps in north-eastern DRC.

The activists warned the operation could derail a two-year peace process that had brought "some normalcy" to northern Uganda. "It is unfortunate; life will be lost and that is not of any benefit to humanity," Bishop John Baptist Osama, the Catholic Archbishop of Guru, said.

"The state we had reached was merely to agree and iron out the ICC [International Criminal Court] indictments. We thought that they will wait and then we find a better way forward."

Norbert Mao, Guru district council chairman and also spearheading attempts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, expressed shock at the operation and said leaders in northern Uganda felt betrayed. "We feel betrayed because we expected them to wait for the UN envoy, Joachim Chicano, to make his report to the UN Security Council and any actions thereafter should have been done under a bigger umbrella organization that has been supporting the peace process," Mao said.

He added: "It [is] the height of hypocrisy because [Ugandan] President Museveni and Ruhakana Rugunda [Uganda's chief government negotiator in the talks with the LRA] have been saying that they will stick to the peace process. It is a reckless decision that is likely to provoke the LRA into northern Uganda and wreak havoc again."

Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told IRIN that several LRA camps in the Garamba forest area had been overrun during the joint assault. He said one of the aims of the operation was to effect arrest warrants issued by the ICC against Kony and other LRA leaders.

"The operations were also prompted by the LRA's failure to sign the peace deal," Ankunda said, referring to a final peace agreement Kony had again been slated to sign in November, following several last-minute no-shows resulting from Kony's demand that he be dealt with by Uganda's courts, rather than the ICC.

"[For] those who still think that they can make sense out of the peace process, the door is still open, but as far as we are concerned, the peace was suspended by the mediator as of 1 December," said Ankunda.

Although five protocols were signed during two years of talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA, a great deal more needs to be discussed to conclude the peace process, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group. www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5804&l=1 "Grievances over marginalization and victimization by the [Ugandan] government, genuine processes of reconciliation based on accountability for all crimes, including those committed by the army and leading to fair reparations, and a credible disarmament incentive for Kony and his men have not been resolved," warned ICG.

"Kony does not represent them, but until the legitimate grievances and feeling of marginalization of northern Uganda's communities are genuinely addressed, LRA fighters remain a possible vehicle for the expression of northerners' frustrations."

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