The senior LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, surrendered in January 2015. Since then he has been debriefed and this is the first in-depth analysis of the picture he paints of Joseph Kony and the LRA today.

Interestingly, it suggests that Kony is in Darfur, under the control of the Sudanese Armed Forces.


Source: Small Army Survey

Lord’s Resistance Army Update

Describes events through 12 February 2015

Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Dominic Ongwen, reportedly surrendered to a group of former Séléka rebels on 5 January 2015, near the town of Sam Ouandja in the Central African Republic (CAR). Mr. Ongwen is one of five LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. With the exception of Kony, the three other ICC indictees are believed to be dead. On 1 February 2015, the Ugandan army declared it had uncovered the remains of Okot Odhiambo, Joseph Kony’s longtime deputy, also indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The two other ICC-indicted commanders, Vincent Otti and Raska Lukwiya, were reportedly killed in 2007 and 2005 respectively. Mr. Ongwen made his first appearance in front of an ICC judge on 26 January. He declared that he was abducted at 14 years of age and was forced to fight in the LRA.

The story of Mr. Ongwen is a reminder of the complex nature of the LRA conflict. Like the majority of fighters, he was abducted as a young child, forced to fight and brainwashed into staying in the LRA ranks. The complexity of his case, and the conflict at large, was also evident in recent interviews with people in northern Uganda, many of who pointed out the lack of protection from the Ugandan government which allowed the LRA to abduct children such as Mr. Ongwen.

In a 20 January statement, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative said that Mr. Ongwen should not be ‘punished twice,’ but should instead undergo traditional cleansing and healing procedures known as Mato Oput (reconciliation) in Acholiland, Mr. Ongwen’s place of birth. Not all LRA-affected communities agree. The ‘Association of Victims of Violence Committed by the LRA’ in Obo, CAR, is seeking to bring a legal case against Mr. Ongwen. Under the current ICC indictment Mr. Ongwen faces charges for a May 2004 attack on Lukodi IDP camp in Northern Uganda where at least 41 people were killed and many more were injured. There is no indication from the ICC that charges for crimes committed outside of Uganda will be added to Mr. Ongwen’s ICC case.

Mr. Ongwen’s surrender was far from simple. In a private statement he alluded to collaborating with Sudanese hunters, whom he referred to as Janjaweed, who in turn handed him over to former Séléka commander Mounir Ahamat, who operates under the command of Zakaria Damane, the leader of the former CAR rebel group UFDR (Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement). Mr. Ahamat told the Associated Press he was initially unaware of Mr. Ongwen’s real identity and the fact that the US State Department had designated a bounty of USD 5 million for information leading to Mr. Ongwen’s capture. It is unclear if the US government will pay the sum to the Mounir Ahamat. In May 2014 President Obama placed sanctions against key leaders of the Séléka.

While Mr. Ongwen’s surrender could encourage further defections in LRA ranks, there have been no such developments of note so far. The current military operations against the LRA, spearheaded by the Ugandan army with US support, badly needed the positive publicity created by Mr. Ongwen’s surrender. According to various sources in eastern CAR, the local population has grown increasingly frustrated with the Ugandan soldiers, who they regard as having overstayed their welcome. Entering its sixth year, the Ugandan army presence in southeastern CAR has not led to a swift end to the LRA. There have been continuous accusations that Ugandan soldiers engage in illicit activities and harassment of the local population including young women. Most recently, a Ugandan soldier based in Obo was accused of raping a 14-year old girl in February 2015.

LRA violence in the region continued in January 2015. A particularly violent attack attributed to the group, took place on 25 January 2015 in Raga county, Western Bahr el Ghazal state, South Sudan. It remains unclear if the violence was related to a spate of attacks in Raga during January 2015 including the killing of at least one fisherman in Sopo, south of Raga, and the killing of one SPLA soldier on 15 January 2015. The attack of 25 January left 13 people dead. The victims were part of a convoy sent to investigate the violence in Sopo. SPLA spokesperson Philip Aguer told Anadolou Agency that the LRA carried out the attack, that three journalists were among the dead and the commissioner of Raga county was badly injured. The commissioner had accused the LRA of committing the 15 January attack, taking place between Raga and Boro Medina. The last previously recorded LRA attack in Raga took place in September 2011.

In CAR, LRA attacks were sporadic and low-intensity, continuing the trend of most of 2014. There were reports of hunters falling into LRA ambushes in Obo, Mboki, and Rafai throughout January 2015. At least one person was killed in the vicinity of Obo, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, an online platform that documents LRA violence in CAR and DRC. A large number of people were abducted on 29 January 2015, 20 km south of Nzako, in Mbomou Prefecture in what was initially suspected to have been an LRA attack. This was due to the fact that a large LRA group was based in the vicinity of Nzako for the best part of 2013 and 2014. But it appears local bandits may have been responsible.

As was the case for most of 2014, LRA violence is most significant in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There were reports of lootings this January in Sambia, Faradje, Nagero and Bamangana in Province Orientiale’s Haut-Uele district. Most LRA attacks have been registered in Haut-Uele in recent years, including a 15 January 2015 assault on an army barrack near Duru where the LRA killed at least one Congolese soldier. Local sources confirmed that a group of 13 armed men stormed the village and attacked the army stationed there. A local radio reported a separate LRA attack near Bili, Bondo territory, in Oriental’s Bas-Uele district where on 15 January an LRA group abducted 12 people.

Recent sightings of large LRA groups moving from CAR into DRC have stoked fears that DRC will see increased attacks in 2015. Local sources claimed that in early November 2014 an LRA group of 54 armed men crossed from Mboki, CAR, to northeastern DRC. A month later, a larger group of 70 men and 60 women followed the same path into DRC. It is possible that LRA groups are moving to DRC to escape the Ugandan army forces based in CAR, who are not allowed by local authorities to operate on Congolese territory. There are also unconfirmed reports that Joseph Kony has tasked some of the LRA groups entering DRC with supplying him with elephant tusks secured in DRC’s Garamba National Park.

In terms of overall force strength, there are some 180 fighters of Ugandan origin left in the LRA ranks. At least 100 armed men are non-Ugandan in addition to 250 unarmed women and children. These estimates are based on testimony from recent LRA combatants. In a private statement, Dominic Ongwen also supplied similar figures. He said that there were close to 200 LRA members in DRC, including more than 110 fighters. Mr. Ogwen said that about 90 armed men are based in Darfur, Sudan.

Mr. Ongwen stated that on 14 December 2014 he met Kony in an undisclosed location in Darfur. This piece of information is consistent with reports from researchers and non-governmental organizations claiming that Kony has been hiding in areas near Darfur, Sudan. The most recent report came from Resolve, an American NGO, stating that Kony spent a long time in 2013 and part of 2014 in the Kafia Kingi enclave, a disputed area between the two Sudans but under the de facto control of the Sudanese Armed Forces. Sudanese officials have consistently denied knowledge of LRA camps in areas under their control.

20 February 2015