LRA fighters trapped: Congo spokesman
February 14, 2009 KINSHASA (AFP) —
The remnants of the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army are trapped by opposing forces in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo and will have to surrender, a Congolese government spokesman said Saturday.
"We think that Joseph Kony is with them," he said, referring to the head of the LRA, the target of a joint operation by Congolese, Ugandan and south Sudanese forces launched in December.
"The hard core of the Lord's Resistance Army is in a swampy forest in the Garamba national park," spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP, putting their numbers at about 250.
"They have no way out of these swamps except to surrender," he said.
Mende said the rest of the LRA had surrendered or disbanded, adding that the aim of the joint operation against the rebels had almost been achieved.
He said that Congolese President Joseph Kabila and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni would meet on the border between their two countries before the end of February to assess the situation.
The Ugandan spokesman for the joint operation said it was "just a matter of time" before the LRA was finally defeated, but refused to say how long it might take.
"Operations will... go on until Kony terrorists are routed out of DRC," Deo Akiiki said, adding that "reviewing will only occur where necessary."
Contacted by telephone from Kampala, Akiiki said the "LRA's capacity to abduct and kill has been gravely reduced since the ground forces took control of the situation."
"They are being starved and no longer have time to sit or plan as our forces reduce their numbers daily," he said. "We are sure we now have got all and it is a matter of time till we stop LRA madness once and for all."
Operation Lighting Thunder was launched on December 14 after Kony repeatedly balked at signing a peace agreement already inked by Kampala in April 2008.
The LRA began its rebellion against Kampala more than two decades ago and is accused of committing atrocities against civilians in northern Uganda, south Sudan, northeastern DR Congo and the Central African Republic.
The operation has been criticised for sparking revenge attacks by the rebels against unprotected civilians in the remote border region.
UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said Tuesday that the LRA had carried out attacks of "appalling brutality," calling the situation "very worrying."
The United Nations said late last month that 130,000 people had been displaced in northern DR Congo after fresh LRA attacks.