Darfur: A deadly new chapter

Africa's most feared rebel army arrives in region, threatening to reignite the conflict

The Lord's Resistance Army, one of the most feared guerrilla groups in Africa, has moved into Darfur, one of the continent's most troubled regions, intelligence sources in Sudan say.

The unexpected move by the LRA comes just as the war-weary west of Sudan recedes from world headlines and after the UN mission there had tentatively declared the fighting to be over. The possible arrival of a messianic cult notorious for rape, civilian massacres and the enslavement of child soldiers threatens that fragile peace. The LRA has been terrorising the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo for 18 months but the bulk of its forces have now crossed into southern Darfur, a senior official in the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) told The Independent.

"We have confirmed that the LRA are there and they have clashed with the local population," said Major-General Kuol Deim Kuol.

He said the LRA had moved into the area to stock up on weapons and supplies and accused the Sudanese government in Khartoum of sponsoring the group. The south has long accused Khartoum of funding militias to destabilise the region but the UN and Sudan experts are both taking the latest reports seriously.

The rebels, led by the self-styled prophet Joseph Kony, have waged a campaign of terror in central Africa for two decades. When The Independent visited the dense jungle on the border area between DRC and Sudan last year, refugees who had fled from LRA attacks spoke of bodies strewn over the forest floor, people burned to death in their huts, women raped and children marched into the bush in gangs.

The group's arrival in Darfur comes at a critical juncture and threatens to undermine efforts to build on an end to major clashes in the region.

The Sudan analyst John Ashworth said: "Having people like the LRA there could exacerbate the conflict. If they are a proxy of Khartoum, they could be used in Darfur in the same way as the Janjaweed. This could be mutually beneficial to both groups."

The Janjaweed, an Arab militia on camels and horseback, were drafted in by Khartoum to deal with disgruntled Darfuri groups who took up arms against the government in 2003.

International experts say that at least 200,000 people were killed in the six years of fighting and almost three million were forced to flee their homes. The Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, which is also after Kony.

General Deim Kuol said that a combat reconnaissance unit from the southern Sudan forces was tracking the LRA rebels, who crossed into the region from the densely forested frontier where DRC, Sudan and Central African Republic converge.

"The LRA is in Darfur for two purposes," he said from Juba in south Sudan. "They are travelling with their families, wives and children, and have taken them there for protection. They are also wanting ammunition and weapons from the [main] Sudan army."

While there is no independent confirmation, the SPLA official said Kony's own family were among the group, including dozens of the 80 wives he is believed to have taken while living in the bush. Kony is believed to have been in hiding in Central African Republic.

Mr Ashworth, said the reported movements "made sense" and that there were few informed observers left who did not believe that Khartoum was supporting Kony and the LRA. "It's credible in so much as it makes sense based on past experience. Everyone in southern Sudan believes that Khartoum is supporting them."

The largest country in Africa, Sudan was wracked by a lengthy and disastrous north-south civil war that ended in 2005 and tensions between the Arab-dominated north and Christian south have reached a new pitch in recent months, with clashes over oil and a politically charged census.

Salah Gosh, an adviser to President Bashir said that the SPLA claim that Khartoum was sponsoring the LRA was untrue. He accused the SPLA of "fabrications" and "political manoeuvres" to "distort the image of the Sudanese army".

However, General Deim Kuol insisted that the SPLA had "hard evidence" of its claims. He said that reconnaissance units had found traces of LRA movement across the border on 11 September and that two days later, hunters had encountered the guerrilla fighters near the town of Tumbara.

Since then, the "large group" that included women and children had moved into the Raga district in southern Darfur where they had clashed with locals after trying to loot supplies.

The director of communications for the UN mission in Darfur, Kemal Saiki, said that they were taking the possible presence of the LRA "seriously" and were attempting to verify the reports. "We've spent three days pawing over reports. We have no hard evidence yet. Conversely we have nothing that refutes their presence either."

After being forced out of Uganda, the LRA had initially moved into the north of Congo. The rebel fighters relocated last year to camps in Garamba National Park in what was hoped would be the final staging post before a peace deal. But internationally brokered talks collapsed after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Kony's arrest.

In the northern Congolese forests, the trail of destruction left by Kony's men is astounding. More than 1,200 people have been killed in the past year and another 2,000 kidnapped – at least one third of these were children. About 400,000 people have been uprooted.

The aid agency Médecins sans Frontières said: "The local population is the target of violence: murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse."

Now the people of Darfur, who have already suffered some of the worst human rights abuses seen in Africa, face a new and sinister threat at a time when stability finally appeared to be within their grasp.

Lord's Resistance Army: A byword for sadism

*The Lord's Resistance Army began in the 1980s as an uprising against the new government of Yoweri Museveni by the Acholi people in northern Uganda.

What started as a struggle for minority rights has since become a byword for sadism in one of the most senseless conflicts on the continent.

*Led by the mysterious Joseph Kony, believed by his followers to be a prophet, the LRA claims to be fighting to enforce a bizarre moral code – based, it says, on the Biblical Ten Commandments – in a separate Acholi homeland.

*Years of abductions where children have been forced to kill their own parents in a brutal initiation have made the rebels feared and hated.

*Thousands of people were killed and 2 million displaced during the 22 years of war between Kony's rebels and the Ugandan government.

*A truce was signed in August 2006 and was later renewed. But talks collapsed in April 2008 after Kony failed to sign the pact as planned.

*The LRA no longer has the capacity to launch operations into Uganda itself and has instead drifted as a freelance force, looting and living off the land across the region.

*Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his role in a conflict that has destabilised a swathe of central Africa.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?