Congo Watch: LRA kill 2 in Tore, South Sudan ambush - LRA may have been tipped-off before Operation ‘Lightning Thunder’ attack

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

LRA kill 2 in Tore, South Sudan ambush - LRA may have been tipped-off before Operation ‘Lightning Thunder’ attack

Note, the following report from the Monitor tells us that the UPDF established their second tactical headquarters at Camp Swahili, the former LRA headquarters, inside the Garamba forests, DR Congo.

Also, see here below conflicting reports that I have highlighted in red regarding casualties found or not when Ugandan commandos parachuted into Garamba a few days after the first wave of Operation Lightning Thunder.

From Monitor Online, Kampala, Uganda by Grace Matsiko Dec. 21, 2008:

In an apparent revenge attack following military raids on their territories, suspected Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have killed two civilians in South Sudan, a regional official has said.

The Deputy Governor of the Western Equatoria state, Joseph Ngere told Sudan Tribune, a Sudanese online daily publication on Friday, suspected LRA rebels killed two youths in an ambush at Tore, an area on the South Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo border on Thursday.

“The deputy governor Ngere said there are growing fears in Western Equatoria state that the fighting may spill over to the state,” the Sudan Tribune quoted the governor as saying.

Uganda, DR Congo and the semi-autonomous South Sudan last Sunday launched joint military strikes in an operation codenamed ‘Lightning Thunder’ against the LRA rebels who have been holed up in north-eastern Congo’s Garamba forests since 2005.

But the statement by Governor Ngere on the attack could be a signal that, though the LRA may have been displaced from its bases as a result of last Sunday’s air strikes, the reclusive rebel leader Joseph Kony’s will to forment mischief is not yet over.

Last Sunday’s strike had the stated objective of applying pressure on Kony to sign the Final Peace Agreement negotiated with the Uganda government since 2006. The operation’s commander, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho has said they wanted to “break Kony’s back”.

However, emerging information suggests that the rebels may have been tipped-off before the attack, meaning the onslaught hit empty encampments and ultimately appears to have failed in its primary objective.

Thursday’s ambush at Tore is the one consequence of military action that political leaders in northern Uganda had warned about, saying the LRA could mount retaliatory strikes, forcing their people who have enjoyed relative peace back into the crowded internally displaced persons camps.

Meanwhile, the LRA peace delegation chairman, Mr. David Nyekorach Matsanga said by telephone yesterday, he could not confirm or deny the attack. He promised to verify the information from military commanders on the ground.

“As far we are concerned we are ready for peace not fighting,” Mr Matsanga said. “If there is ceasefire, it will enable our troops to re-assemble in Rii-kwangba, the designated assembly point,” he added.

Mr Matsanga told Sunday Monitor yesterday, they have not closed the door to peace efforts but will no longer allow South Sudan’s semi-autonomous government to chair any talks. Until last Sunday, South Sudan Vice President, Dr Riek Machar, was chief mediator to the Juba peace process.

“I have spoken to LRA and they are asking for cessation of hostilities. They are however saying future negotiations cannot take place in Sudan because the Sudan People’s Liberation Army participated in the raids,” Mr Matsanga said.

When contacted the spokesman for the UPDF troops deployed in the DRC, Capt. Chris Magezi said they have not heard of the attack.

“We are not aware of that,” Capt. Magezi said via satellite telephone link from Dungu yesterday.

Sunday Monitor has separately learnt that the army has stepped up its vigilance in West Nile. Before Operation Lightning Thunder, the army had repeatedly said they have secured Uganda’s borders against possible infiltration by the LRA, a terror group that for years has used panga’s, among other weapons, to kill and maim their victims.

Up to two million Ugandans were at one time internally displaced in northern Uganda as result of the insurgency.
The Governor of Central Equatoria state, which covers the provincial capital of Juba, Major General Clement Wani Konga, on Monday warned of imminent attacks by the LRA rebels in the region.

The UPDF said military strikes on Kony’s bases were necessary to force the elusive rebel leader to sign a peace deal. Kony has thrice failed to show up at the signing venue since at various since the beginning of this year.

Meanwhile, Sunday Monitor has established that the UPDF have established their second tactical headquarters at Camp Swahili, the former LRA headquarters, inside the Garamba forests that were occupied by the troops this week.

Between September 17 and October 4, sources in Monuc, the UN mission in DR Congo, say the LRA attacked 10 villages and abducted of between 100 and 200 people, as well as killing up to a 100 others. The attacks displaced over 70,000 people.
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From Xinhuanet, Kampala Dec. 17 2008:

No casualties have been found in an airstrike on Uganda's rebel camps located in remote northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a military spokesman for the operation said on Wednesday.

"We have not found any casualties. It is possible they were tipped off before the attack or they carried the injured and the dead away before our ground troops closed in," Capt. Chris Magezi, the spokesman for the joint operation told Xinhua by satellite telephone from Dungu, the main military base for Ugandan and DRC troops.

Military forces from Uganda, southern Sudan and DRC on Sunday launched an aerial bombing on camps of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)

Magezi said six people were rescued, four of them Congolese, one from Central African Republic (CAR) and another from Uganda, who told the army that the rebels fled when the aerial bombardment started.

The ground troops who arrived at Kony's main camp on Tuesday only found abandoned ammunitions, sub-machine guns, burning huts and vast gardens of food crops.

"We are very happy this was a decisive blow, without food LRA can not survive," Magezi defended the operation opposed by many legislators representing the war-ravaged north.

He said the operation will continue to hunt down the rebels whose leader has failed to sign the Final Peace Agreement the group negotiated with government for over two years.

Meanwhile, the army has started a massive campaign of air-dropping thousands of leaflets in northeastern DRC with messages urging the rebels to surrender and take amnesty.

"We came here because of you. Give peace a chance and come home," read one message.

"The whole world cares about you. Use this chance to get out of the war," read another.

Magezi said the United Nations peace keeping mission in Congo (MONUC) has pledged helicopters to evacuate the combatants who surrender.

LRA, which has wreaked havoc in northern Uganda and southern Sudan for years, has more recently targeted towns and villages in the DRC and CAR. Editor: Sun
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From Reuters Kampala Dec, 18, 2008:

Ugandan soldiers found corpses in Joseph Kony's east Congo hideout after it was attacked by the military, but have not found the rebel leader, Kampala said on Thursday.

The five-day offensive began with an attack by helicopter gunships and an aerial bombardment of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) camps, and special forces have since moved into the remote jungle areas to "mop up" the insurgents.

Kony's soldiers have waged a two-decade war against Uganda's government that has spilled over into south Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in one of Africa's longest wars.

"(The Ugandan army UPDF) have found dead bodies ... they are trying to identify the bodies," said Oryem Okello, state minister for international affairs.

"If Kony was among those bodies, we would have known by now," he told Reuters by telephone.

Okello, who was briefed by the army, said he could not say how many bodies were there, adding that it would be difficult to identify some of the dead.

A peace process started in 2006, fell into disarray after the self-proclaimed prophet repeatedly failed to turn up to sign a final deal argued out in negotiations in southern Sudan.

Juba, Kinshasa and Kampala agreed to launch Sunday's attack against the LRA rebels who have been holed up in northeastern Congo since 2005. In June, the three countries said they would jointly combat the insurgents.

Diplomats say the attack was necessary following Kony's repeated refusal to sign the pact and reports that he was using the peace process to re-arm and recruit.

The guerrillas have demanded that arrest warrants for Kony and two deputies be scrapped before they will ink the agreement.

But Uganda says it will ask the U.N. Security Council to defer the indictments only when Kony signs.

Uganda's government says the military operation is aimed at forcing Kony to sign the final deal -- an explanation that opposition members laughed at on Tuesday in parliament.

Only sketchy information has filtered out since the offensive began five days ago. Some opposition parliamentarians said the army had attacked empty LRA camps, local media said.

Nearly 2 million people were displaced and tens of thousands killed during the civil war. Kony's fighters were notorious for hacking off limbs and using children to fight.

"The success of operation should not be measured by Kony's head, but by the capacity of the LRA to continue abducting (and) killing," Okello said.
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From New Vision Uganda Dec. 17, 2008 by Henry Mukasa:
THE UPDF commandos on Tuesday evening matched into the deserted LRA camps in the Garamba jungles in north-east DR Congo that were bombarded by the airforce on Sunday.

The Special Forces that were air-dropped five kilometres from the main camp called Camp Shahili, picked their way in the dense, swampy forest infested with wild animals.

Strewn in the camp were tents, bedding, farm tools, generators, shoes, mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking utensils and posho and beans.

The commandos collected the items and burnt them.

No dead or injured were found, but the joint forces said indications were that the rebels suffered severe casualties.

For instance, the forces picked nine sub-machine guns, four anti-personnel mines and bombs in the camps that had 400 people.

The latest offensive, Operation Lightning Thunder, was jointly launched by Uganda, South Sudan and the DR Congo after the rebels thrice this year refused to sign the peace agreement in Juba.

Spokesperson Capt. Chris Magezi said yesterday the camps had large gardens of groundnuts, maize, rice, sunflower, sorghum, sweet potatoes, cassava and sim-sim. The soldiers started destroying the crops. Magezi said it would take a while to raze the gardens.

Child slaves abducted from the region had tended the gardens. The rebels also had fully-stocked granaries of posho and beans.

Magezi said the operation was “impressive” and likened it to the army’s victories at Birinyang and Jabuleni in South Sudan in 2005 during Operation Iron Fist. The rebels then were forced to flee to Garamba from where, he said, they had also been smoked out.

“The final cord of the LRA backbone has been broken,” Magezi said. “Without food, Kony will become a wanderer and it will be difficult for him to survive.”

Magezi said the joint forces were still hunting Kony, his fighters and the non-combatants who fled into the jungles. He said the attack came shortly after Kony addressed a parade and left for a hunting spree.

“There’s evidence of casualties,” Magezi noted. “We suspect they carried away the injured.”

The army yesterday named four Congolese girls it rescued as Jean Lavi Kitala, 16, Justive Atoloba, 14, Victoria Nakayobi, 11, and pregnant 17-year-old Horlanchar Minongote, who had been married off to rebel commander Abokero.

Commander Brig. Patrick Kankiriho received the youngsters at the tactical headquarters in Dungu, Congo, and gave them personal effects. “Imagine your daughter pregnant at this age!” Kankiriho remarked.

Asked about the fate of Kony, Kankiriho said the operation was not a cup of tea. “You attack, deploy, fight and count casualties.”

But, he added, Kony’s end was near. “Kony will never stand and fight again. He has lost many people who fled in disarray and are scattered in the jungles. He is always the first to flee,” Kankiriho explained.

Kankiriho, the commander of the Mbale-based 3rd Division, is deputised by Col. Moses Rwakitarate, the Chief of Staff of the Airforce and Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba of the Special Forces Division.

Kankiriho commanded the disarmament programme against Karimojong warriors.

Yesterday, the forces continued searching for the rebels and dropping more leaflets to encourage scattered fighters and abductees to hand themselves in.
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From Sapa-AFP Dec. 17, 2008:
Ugandan forces taking part in a joint operation against Lord's Resistance Army rebels are dropping leaflets to urge them to gather at areas where they will escape attack, an official said on Wednesday.

"This campaign is part of our strategy and rules of engagement. The LRA should know that if they go to the designated areas they will not be attacked," said Ruth Nankabirwa, the state minister for defence.

Ugandan, Congolese and south Sudan troops launched an offensive at the weekend against the rebels, whose leader Joseph Kony has refused to sign a final peace agreement with Kampala.

Uganda's state-run newspaper New Vision displayed a leaflet with a picture of a former Kony aide who received amnesty after defecting from the group.

"You have the blessing when you come home," read a text under the picture.

Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa said on Tuesday the military drive was to force the rebels back to the peace process, whose final agreement Kampala has signed.

Kony cites outstanding International Criminal Court arrest warrants against him and his lieutenants as a reason for failing to sign the deal.

The LRA has been accused of abductions, rape and killings of tens of thousand of civilians in the two-decade insurgency that has also displaced nearly two million others.



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