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Has Attack on LRA Failed? Acholi MPs Claim UPDF Hit Empty LRA Camps

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UPDF hit empty LRA camps – MPs

Yasiin Mugerwa, Risdel Kasasira & Sheila Naturinda

The Acholi Parliamentary Group yesterday accused the UPDF of bombing deserted rebel camps as opposition grew against the military offensive launched Sunday.

Addressing a press conference at Parliament yesterday, MP Mr Reagan Okumu (Aswa, FDC) said, “We have reliable information that the UPDF attacked empty camps; the LRA had left the area as the rebels had already been alerted two days before the operation.”

Citing unnamed sources, the MP added, “They could have killed innocent civilians who were abducted because the government failed to protect them. The most unfortunate thing is the indiscriminate bombardment which is going on in Congo.”

Pushed to explain the veracity of his information, Mr Okumu said, “I am the shadow minister for foreign affairs and I have sources within the UPDF, South Sudan, and Congo and in many other countries. Whoever wants to challenge this information should come out but I once again assure you that UPDF bombarded empty camps.”

But Mr Okumu’s appears to contradict himself when he says the army bombed empty camps and at the same time claims they could have killed innocent civilians.

Mr Okumu’s statement was dismissed by State Minister for Defence Ruth Nankabirwa the operation spokesman, Capt. Chris Magezi. “That is absolutely nonsense,” he said. “The air strikes were part of our operation plan and they will remain part of that plan until we accomplish our mission,” Capt. Magezi told Daily Monitor via satellite telephone from his Dungu base in DRC.

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SOLIDARITY: L-R: MPs Reagan Okumu, Okello Okello and Akello Franca address journalists in Kampala. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA

The opposition to the war by the northern MPs is unlikely to result in a troop recall but could cost the army local support should the theatre of war return to northern Uganda. The UPDF, assisted by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the Congolese army, on Sunday launched air strikes against suspected rebel positions in north east Democratic Republic of Congo following the repeated failure of LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony to sign a peace deal.

The infantry and other support troops including newly created special forces were later deployed to hunt down rebel fighters but no details of casualties on either side were available by press time yesterday.

There was also no independent information about the whereabouts of Kony who had earlier been reported by government sources to be headed towards the Central African Republic. “We do not know where Kony is,” Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa told a press conference in Kampala yesterday. “But within a few days or hours the Special Forces will be at the scene to assess the situation.”

He added that any collateral damage caused by the bombings could only be assessed after ground troops arrive at the scene and revealed plans to keep the rebels from filtering back into Uganda. “We understand the fears, but we call upon the northern Uganda leadership to assure people in the area that they are secure,” he said.

In Parliament, State Minister for Defence, Ruth Nankabirwa told MPs that all air strikes against the LRA were on target. She was justifying the decision by the UPDF, SPLA and DRC forces to attack LRA camps in Dungu . She thanked the DR Congo and South Sudan governments for allowing Uganda fighter jets to refuel on their territory.)

The Minister for Security, Mr Amama Mbabazi, said the attack on Kony was initiated by the Congolese government after his  Lords Resistance Army started killing Congolese civilians, a position that had earlier been repeated by Mr Kutesa who said the LRA had displaced about 17,000 DRC civilians, and abducted women and children. “Kony had exported the atrocities he was committing in Uganda to Congo,” Mr Mbabazi told Parliament, as the government rallied the Ms for support.

Despite the call from government, MPs from northern Uganda, which suffered the brunt of the two-decade LRA insurgency, maintained opposition to the renewed military offensive.
Reading from a joint statement, the chairman of the Acholi Parliamentary Group, Livingstone Okello-Okello (Chwa, UPC) yesterday questioned the government’s moral authority to attack the LRA over Kony’s failure to sign the comprehensive Peace Agreement when President Museveni has not yet signed the agreement in question.

“We are vehemently opposed to the joint military operation against the LRA because 99 per cent of these rebels and their wives, not to mention the children born in the bush, were abducted,” Mr Okello-Okello said. “It’s double crime for the state of Uganda to follow the abducted people and destroy them in the bush.”

He added: “To destroy thousands of lives in order to get rid of three LRA commanders is totally unacceptable. It is a crime against humanity bordering on genocide. The LRA should also exercise maximum restraint and stop looting and abducting in the DRC and Southern Sudan.

The statement called upon Uganda, DR Congo and South Sudan to halt the operation h and revert to the peace process as the only way forward. “The military option has failed to resolve the conflict for 20 years,” the statement said.

Opposition to the renewed offensive grew stronger in the day when MPs from West Nile, Lango and Acholi regions issued a joint condemnation of the attack on LRA and demanded for the resumption of peace talks.

The Greater North Parliamentary Forum statement signed by the  secretary general, MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo (Obongi, FDC) also appealed to the government to lobby for the withdrawal of the International Criminal Court indictments against LRA commanders.

Mr Kutesa said yesterday that Kony and his commanders would get amnesty if they surrendered to the UPDF but would be handed over to the ICC if captured in combat.

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Written by torit1955

December 17, 2008 at 10:04 am

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