Tom Cargill: True believers are surrounded by sex slaves and battle fodder

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Joseph Kony's LRA, long feared in northern Uganda, has gradually widened it's gyre of operations, roaming vast ungoverned swathes of Southern Sudan, Eastern Congo, eastern Central African Republic and now, it seems, Darfur.

Under sustained military offensives from the Ugandan army, the LRA has responded by breaking up and scattering its forces far and wide. These then coalesce into operational groups composed of a few battle-hardened and highly-motivated true believers surrounded by dozens, or even hundreds of kidnapped villagers, used as porters, sex slaves and machine gun fodder. The few that do not die or escape are gradually drawn into the core LRA.

So far has the LRA come from its northern Ugandan roots, that many of it's rank and file are not from Uganda at all, but composed of an increasingly international mix of languages and cultures, held together largely by Acholi language training and the severe, if compelling, power of Kony's charismatic personality and rituals.

Yet however much the LRA appears an irrational affront to both logic and humanity, Kony is very much in control and immersed in the complex politics of the region. His, communications, intelligence, command and control capabilities are superior to those of many states, as are his soldiers equipment and tactics.

Whether or not he is receiving support from elements associated with Khartoum, Kony uses regional rivalries to pursue his own agenda, not the other way round, and his agenda is survival, plain and simple. He knows that the regional and international community is simply not set up to respond to a phenomenon such as the LRA, existing as it does between states and jurisdictions. LRA incursions into Darfur would further destabilise a fragile political situation, just as there may be some progress among the various parties in finding some sort of accommodation. Although recent comments by officials that the war is over have deservedly been treated with scepticism, it is fair to say that the situation has stabilised. The LRA's presence would destroy this stability, although it might galvanise the various armed groups at loggerheads to unite against such a severe foreign threat.

Sadly, neither would this mean that the people of northern Uganda can have any greater confidence that their current respite from LRA predations will continue. LRA units have demonstrated that they can cross staggering distances in very short times and strike where least expected.

What this move would show is that Kony is continuing to grow in reach, capacity and threat to the region. Ending Kony's command will not end all the problems that the LRA have caused, but it is a prerequisite which is now long overdue.

Tom Cargill is assistant head of the Africa programme at Chatham House

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