Congo Watch: Uganda enlists ex-rebel forces to end a war

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Uganda enlists ex-rebel forces to end a war

Ugandan soldiers on patrol in the Congo

Ugandan soldiers on patrol in the Congo look for tracks of the Lord’s Resistance Army in late March 2010. Former rebels of the LRA have now been given the mission to hunt down their one-time boss Joseph Kony and his remaining forces. (Jeffrey Gettleman / New York Times News Service)

Uganda enlists ex-rebel forces to end a war
By Jeffrey Gettleman / New York Times News Service
Published: April 11. 2010 4:00AM PST
OBO, Central African Republic — The night is inky, the helicopters are late and Cmdr. Patrick Opiyo Makasi sits near a dying cooking fire on a remote army base, spinning his thoughts into the darkness.

“It was either them or me,” Makasi said of the countless people he has killed. “Them or me.”

The Lord’s Resistance Army, a notoriously brutal rebel group, snatched him from a riverbank when he was 12 years old, more than 20 years ago, and trained him to burn, pillage and slaughter. His name, Makasi, means scissors in Kiswahili, and fellow soldiers said he earned it by shearing off ears and lips.

But now he has a new mission: hunting down his former boss.

In an unorthodox strategy that could help end this seemingly pointless war, the Ugandan army is deploying special squads of experienced killers to track down the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, one of the most wanted men in Africa, who has been on the run for more than 20 years.

These soldiers, like Makasi, are former LRA fighters themselves, and just about all of them were abducted as children. They recently surrendered and are now wading through black rivers and head-high elephant grass across three of the most troubled countries in the world — the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan — where the last remnants of the LRA are believed to be hiding. They say they know all of Kony’s tricks.

Some critics may not think this wise, putting so much trust in men whose moral compass had been turned upside down for so long.

But the Ugandan government is desperate to finish this conflict, which has raged for more than two decades and killed thousands. The government’s policy is to grant amnesty to all LRA fighters except the top three, who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court: Kony; Okot Odhiambo, his deputy; and Dominic Ongwen, another commander who is widely believed to have planned a massacre in Congo in December in which hundreds of civilians were bludgeoned to death.

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