Hope Fades for LRA Abductee-Families as UPDF Ends Kony Hunt

2848 Views Gulu, Uganda

In short
Their outcry follows the return of Ugandan troops from the Central African Republic, effectively ending the combat-equipped deployment in search for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lords Resistance Army-LRA. The self-proclaimed prophet is believed to have killed more than 100,000 people and displaced more than two million over a period of two decades.

Families whose children were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army are panicking over the withdrawal of Uganda People's Defense Forces - UPDF from the Central African Republic. They say the withdrawal has dampened chances for the return of their children who are still in captivity.

Their outcry follows the return of Ugandan troops from the Central African Republic, effectively ending the combat-equipped deployment in search for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army-LRA. The self-proclaimed prophet is believed to have killed more than 100,000 people and displaced more than two million over a period of two decades.

The LRA are believed to have abducted more than 20,000 children between 1987 and 2006, before the group was neutralized. The children were used as soldiers, sex slaves and servants according to the United Nations Children's Agency-UNICEF.

A number of these were rescued in subsequent operations by UPDF; a number of others escaped from captivity and were repatriated to Uganda, rehabilitated and reintegrated into their communities and families. Although, data on the number of those still in LRA captivity remains scanty, several families have indicated that their abducted children are still missing.

They told Uganda Radio Network that they were banking on UPDF's continued presence in Central African Republic to rescue and bring back, their children. Their hope is now fading as UPDF ends the hunt for a man, whose troops are believed to be spread in lawless territories surrounding Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.

The families are disappointed that the UPDF is pulling out without bringing back their children and arresting or killing LRA leader Joseph Kony to account for their children.

Jennifer Gladys Atimango, a resident of Kal Pa label village in Atiak Sub County, Amuru district says that although they have never stopped waiting for their elder brother, abducted in 1995, the UPDF withdrawal has crashed their hope.

Atimango says many abducted children made it home through the support of UPDF soldiers deployed to track down the LRA from the jungles of DR Congo and the Central African Republic.

39-year-old Concy Amal, a resident of Atiak Kal Pa Abuga says the absence of UPDF troops in the area opens ground for revenge attacks on escaping children. Amal says her family has patiently waited for the rescue of her brother in law, Joseph Okiya abducted by the LRA in 1997. 

Luke Kenya Alana, the former LCIII chairperson of Atiak Sub County says the withdrawal of UPDF must have also thrown civilians in LRA affected communities in Central African Republic and DR Congo into panic.
 
//Cue in: "South Sudanese and…
Cue out: "…with the rest"//
 
Research by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) indicates that there are still hundreds of missing persons in Northern Uganda as a result of the war. The humanitarian organization cites various reasons for their missing.

 Sheik Musa Khelil, the vice chairperson of Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative (ARLPI), an interfaith organization based in Gulu district says families of the missing persons long to close the search, or safely welcome home, those who went missing as result of LRA abductions.
 
//Cue in: "Indeed the withdrawal…
Cue out: "…comes back home"//
 
Khelil, says escaping from LRA captivity is not easy without fire power after Joseph Kony and his commanders.
 
//Cue in: "The coming out…
Cue out: "…still in captivity"//
 
At least 2,000 personnel of the Uganda People's Defence Forces have been serving under the AU Regional Task Force on LRA in Central African Republic.

But UPDF Spokesman Brigadier Richard Karemire says that although Kony was not captured, the decision to withdraw was premised on the realization that the mission to neutralize the LRA has now been successfully achieved and LRA's capacity of waging war against Uganda has been degraded.  

Joseph Kony with less than 100 armed fighters is now weak and ineffective.  He no longer poses any significant threat to Uganda's security and Northern Uganda in particular," Brigadier Karemire said in a statement issued earlier.

Brig. Tumusiime Katsigazi, the acting Chief of Staff Land Forces said UPDF will continue to rescue more abducted children with the help of regional forces allied to the UPDF.

 

About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.