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Opinion: Sudan and the Lord’s Resistance Army

Will Washington tell us the truth, if LRA's Joseph Kony and Sudan's Omar al-Bashir are acting again in concert?

A Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) soldier poses during peace negotiations between the LRA and Ugandan religious and cultural leaders in Ri-Kwangba, southern Sudan, Nov. 30, 2008. (Africa24 Media/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The Lord’s Resistance Army remains the deadly, desperate bane of civilians in central Africa.

Led by self-anointed messiah and wanted war criminal Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has a long and notorious reputation as one of the most brutal militia groups in operation. As much as we might hope that the LRA’s reign of terror has come to an end, the
gruesome group persists even as it comes under increasing military pressure from Ugandan forces chasing the LRA into eastern Congo and the Central African Republic. The Obama administration may yet play a key role in determining whether this lethal game of cat and mouse comes to an end.

The depravity of the LRA in action is difficult to describe. In just three days in December, an LRA attack — a massacre, really — in northeastern Congo killed more than 320 civilians, as the group kidnapped more than 250 other people, including 80 children. The LRA has long relied on children as conscripts and sexual slaves for the group’s leadership. Most of those killed were in this particular attack were bound and savagely beaten or hacked to death. A number of
women had their lips cut off in the attack.

This makes it all the more concerning that the LRA has again been active in both South Sudan and the Darfur region of west Sudan in recent months. With the recent national election behind it, President Bashir may again feel empowered to more broadly use proxy forces to sew mayhem in both Darfur and the South. Bashir will likely use the national elections, which were neither free nor fair, to claim greater "legitimacy." With that box checked, Bashir and his party colleagues will likely return to business as usual.

The LRA has long enjoyed the patronage of the Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir (who is also a wanted war criminal). Although this support was far more direct and substantial during the earlier North-South war in Sudan, where the North found the LRA as a highly useful proxy force, it is entirely possible that President Bashir is again eager to play his LRA card against his enemies. It is clear that the LRA would not enter into Darfur without out some advance coordination and planning with the Sudanese government, and Kony’s troops know full well that the Ugandan army could not follow them into Darfur without sparking a much wider conflict.