Friday, December 19, 2008



Thursday, 18th December, 2008
By Henry Mukasa and Barbara Among

UPDF helicopter gunships attacked LRA rebels on parade, the commanders said yesterday.The commander of the military offensive code-named Operation Lightning Thunder, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho, said the strikes were on target.

He said intelligence gathered prior to the attack indicated that the rebels were on parade at the ominous hour of the fateful day.

The information has been corroborated by rescued abductees. Kankiriho said the area was scorched. The bombs from the Mig23 jet fighters and helicopter gun-ships had chopped trees, incinerated huts and tents in the surroundings. He said the camps are desolate.

The bombardment was jointly carried out by Uganda, Congo and South Sudan forces after Kony refused to sign the peace agreement that had been painstakingly reached in Juba in April.

Kankiriho, who yesterday inspected the camps located deep in the Garamba National Park in the north-east of the DR Congo, said the trail of blood and abandoned possessions showed the rebels suffered a deadly blow.

After the Sunday morning parade, Kankiriho said, Kony left for hunting. Moments later, he said, the MiG23 jet fighters and helicopters struck the camps, including the hunting grounds.

The rebels, according to him, returned to pick their dead and injured because the advancing troops took time to occupy the camps given the difficult terrain.

“We don’t know who is dead but we shall find out soon,” he promised. “Our plan was to hit them first with the air-force. We are after breaking the will of Kony to fight again.”

But, Kankiriho said, the hunt for Kony was still on and more forces had been deployed to pursue him if he is alive.
From the camps, the army picked two G3 guns and one sub-machine gun.

Two more abductees were also rescued, bringing the number to eight since the campaign was launched on Sunday.

Kankiriho said Kony had expensive bedding and a guitar which he abandoned. It appeared, Kankiriho added, that the man wanted at The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, wanted to turn Garamba into a fortress from where he would commit more atrocities.

Kony, Kankiriho explained, had established a permanent homestead with several mud-and-wattle huts for his many wives which surrounded his.

He marvelled at the expansive chunks of forest that the rebels had opened up for farming and rearing goats and chicken.
Spokesperson Capt. Chris Magezi earlier said several documents, including copies of the final peace agreement which Kony refused to sign thrice this year, were picked from the camps.

When the attack came to light on Monday, Acholi MPs condemned it, saying only peace talks would pacify the region since for 20 odd years the military option had failed to deliver peace.

They also said the casualties would be abducted children and women whom, the MPs added, the Government had failed to protect in the first place.

Aswa MP Reagan Okumu said the allies bombed empty camps which Kony had fled days earlier.

In a reaction, Kankiriho said: “Reagan Okumu thinks these are World War times (1914-1945) where you attack and stab someone with a sword. I will invite him to talk to the rescued abductees. They tell how the planes hit the camps.”

He also said the captives and rebels’ families lived in separate camps. “The MPs are asking, ‘where are the dead bodies?’ We are not after mirambo (corpses),” Kankiriho said. “We want to break Kony’s will to fight.”

Asked how he travelled to the LRA camps from the joint forces tactical base at Dungu, Kankiriho said the UPDF had the means to take him there. “We are too modern. We can reach anywhere. Even if we were walking, I would walk. I am a field man.”

On whether he had travelled along with his deputies, Col. Moses Rwakitarate and Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to inspect the camps, Kankiriho said in the army, assistants move ahead of the commander.

On its part, the UN Security Council has supported the latest effort to flush out the rebels holed up in the Garamba forest.

After briefing the council about the attack on Wednesday, the UN envoy to Northern Uganda, former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, told reporters that the members expressed sympathy and support for the military action.

“They also urged that the peace process be continued and they would support the peace process, which means the signature of the final agreement,” Chissano was quoted by the UN news centre.

Chissano stressed that Kony had now failed “for the seventh time” to sign the peace accord.

LRA spokesperson David Nyekorach Matsanga welcomed the Security Council debate. “Not all of them voiced support for the military option,” he said. “It was a fifty-fifty stand, and this is good for the peace talks.”

Matsanga said the LRA negotiating team would continue to push for resumption of the peace talks. He said he was in touch with the leader of government delegation Ruhakana Rugunda.

Chissano, whose term as envoy to northern Uganda expires in two weeks, urged the council to support Uganda end the rebellion militarily.

Council diplomats said they hoped to agree a unanimous statement backing the offensive in the coming days.
Reuters news agency reported that Britain’s UN Ambassador John Sawers told reporters the military action was necessary since Kony had refused to cooperate in the peace process.

He described Kony’s militia as a “festering sore in this region of Africa.”
An earlier report from Chissano’s office on the stalled peace process said the Congolese and Uganda governments lost patience with Kony who had repeatedly failed to show up to sign the final peace agreement.

The reclusive Kony has refused to sign the final peace deal, saying he wants the International Criminal Court arrest warrants dropped first.

Uganda has pledged to ask the Security Council to suspend the warrants after Kony signs the truce.

Chissano said the council had not discussed freezing the indictments as Kony has yet to honour his commitments.
The LRA is notorious for human rights abuses including the killing and maiming of civilians and the abduction and recruitment of children as soldiers and sex slaves.