Northern Sudan has been accused of employing rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to unsettle southern Sudan and the Darfur region ahead of the south’s independence referendum scheduled for January 9, 2011. But an official from the LRA, which has embarked on a mass recruitment, has debunked the claims and suggested that they are rather seeking a peace deal with the region.
The accusation comes a day after members the Darfur rebel Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) were attacked by militiamen of the LRA in western Sudan.
“A group of LRA attacked our forces in Dafak in South Darfur yesterday, Their language was one of the ways we knew they were LRA. They probably have a relationship with the government of Sudan,” Haydar Galucuma Ateem, vice president of the Darfur rebel Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), was quoted by Reuters.
According to LJM officials, the attackers were identified as LRA rebels after they left some of their belongings behind as they escaped into Central African Republic, a neighboring country. Other reports claim that two small groups of about 20 young LRA rebels carrying small arms shot and killed one LJM soldier before retreating into dense forest in remote South Darfur.
But Justine Labeja, a leading member of the LRA, has denied the allegations saying “I don’t see the reason why LRA should go up to Darfur to look for another rebel [group] to attack them. You know, on this planet, anybody is free to say anything about anybody. That is why I’m saying it’s a baseless statement or accusation”.
“The accusation they are talking about is very easy to send a monitoring team to go and verify what happened, why and where exactly […] If it was found that LRA did that, they have to account for it because what we know [is that] LRA has become so many on this planet, especially in the region.
“You can find LRA in Sudan. You can find LRA in Congo and you can find another LRA in Central African Republic. But, [of] all these, which one are we talking about?” Justine Labeja is quoted as saying by VOA.
And south Sudan, which engaged the north in decades of civil wars over ideologies and resources until a 2005 peace deal ended the combat, has accused the northern government in Khartoum of arming the LRA to destabilize the semi-autonomous region ahead of the south’s referendum for independence scheduled to take place on the 9th of January.
Groups of LRA soldiers frequently attack south Sudanese villages near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the United Nations and south Sudan government. The UN has also indicated that over 25,000 people have been forced from their homes by LRA since the beginning of 2010.
While Uganda has also joined in the chorus to accuse Sudan’s central government in Khartoum of providing support to the LRA, although northern Sudan deny the charges, US-based Human Rights Watch has warned that the rebels have gone on a massive recruitment campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
“Many of the young people in the area say they [Northern Sudan] are arming the LRA,” adds Ateem, the Darfuri LJM vice president.
LRA wants ceasefire?
However, LRA official Justine Labeja argues that his “group has often been used as a scapegoat for selfish different political reasons” whilst insisting that “the leader of the LRA rebels wants a ceasefire with the governments of Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic to jump-start the peace process ahead of south Sudan’s referendum scheduled for January 9 next year,” he told VOA news.
The LRA, headed by war crimes suspect Joseph Kony, moved into remote areas in neighboring countries like Sudan and Central African Republic, after coming under pressure from the Ugandan army.
The LRA leader has been on the run since December 2008 when regional states launched a hunt to arrest him after he refused to sign a peace deal with Kampala.
The LRA is known for their abduction of child soldiers and extreme brutality. And there is an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued to LRA commanders, whose tactics include mutilating their victims by cutting off their lips and ears.