The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, continues to pose a severe threat to civilians in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since the LRA began attacking civilians on Congolese soil in September of 2008 through the end of 2009, it has killed approximately 1,800 civilians,  with 300 deaths during December 2009. More than 100 people were killed during January 2010.
Units from the Congolese national army, or FARDC, sent to protect civilians and fight the LRA have shown little interest in either task. Congolese soldiers largely refuse to engage LRA while constantly harassing the local population. Incidents of rape, looting, beatings, and even killings of innocent civilians by Congolese soldier abound. There were 116 reported cases of rapes allegedly committed by Congolese soldiers last October in just one neighborhood near the Congolese army base in Dungu. Meanwhile, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, or MONUC, is stretched too thin to adequately protect civilians in the vast region where the LRA operates, often in diffuse cells.
The movement of some LRA elements into Darfur should alarm policymakers and spark revitalized international efforts to deal with the militia. But these efforts should not neglect the LRA’s continuing ability to wreak havoc in northeastern Congo. Both the Congolese army and MONUC should urgently prioritize the protection of civilians. The Congolese army should take swift action to deal with abuses committed by its soldiers, prosecuting those who commit abuses with a focus on command responsibility. Moreover, a credible investigation into the embezzlement of U.N.-provided rations and supplies for the Congolese army is urgently required. The misuse of such materials contributes to the army’s bad behavior and is an obstacle to more effective efforts to deal with the LRA.
U.N. presence, especially in the areas worst affected by LRA violence, is crucial. Unsurprisingly, LRA attacks happen most frequently in places with no peacekeepers. A promised contingent of Tunisian peacekeepers should be deployed immediately to Province Orientale. The majority of the newly arrived troops should be deployed to Niangara, Ngilima, and Bangadi, with at least some presence in Bas Uele. This force will need rapid response capability, including helicopters and other vehicles. In the meantime, MONUC should conduct frequent and routine joint patrols with FARDC soldiers. Joint patrols help enormously in terms of protection and evidence demonstrates that Congolese soldiers behave better when in the company of peacekeepers.
If the Congolese army can improve its behavior, U.N. cooperation with it should expand to include information sharing and coordinated operations aimed at protecting civilians and neutralizing the LRA. Wherever possible, such cooperation should also be established with the Ugandan army, which is still operating in Congo in pursuit of the LRA. Successful cooperation between Congo’s army, MONUC, and Ugandan forces appears to have succeeded in protecting the population of Faradje from attacks last year and compelling the LRA commander, Lt. Colonel Charles Arop, to surrender in November.
Practical steps to improve civilian protection can also contribute to a more coherent regional approach to end the threat posed by the LRA. MONUC’s civilian component also has an important role to play. Political affairs officers with the capacity to collect and analyze information on the LRA should be deployed to Dungu. Likewise, increasing cross-border cooperation between U.N. operations in Congo, Sudan, and Central African Republic, or CAR, could help to develop a more holistic strategy, under the aegis of the U.N. Security Council.
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