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The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)

Northern Uganda has been a vulnerable population right from the time of Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena then up to Joseph Kony and his Lords Resistance Army (LRA) outfit who devastated the region.

By the end of 2013 the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which launched its uprising two decades earlier, had moved from Uganda to the border region of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), where it could rebuild in the political chaos sweeping through the country.

A report released by the Washington-based Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative in August said efforts to combat LRA rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and elsewhere had made significant progress since 2010. Just a few years ago, the LRA had about 800 combatants. As the result of defection campaigns and operations conducted primarily by the Ugandan military, along with the support by the US, by 2015 it was estimated to have about 200 combatants left.

On 05 March 2012, the non-profit organization Invisible Children, released a video on the internet to kick off an awareness campaign entitled "Kony 2012," to highlight the actions of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The goal of the campaign was to promote efforts to capture and bring Kony to justice by the end of 2012. Criticism was leveled at the campaign and at Invisible Children over how information was presented in the video and their overall activities. Criticism included: implying that Joseph Kony and the LRA were still operating in Uganda (which they are not), implying that the LRA is still a large organization (which it is not), stating that Kony and the LRA were objectively worse than other similar actors in the region (such as recently convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga) or governments accused of human rights violations (like that of Uganda), and suggesting that Operation Observant Compass was the first attempt by the United States to provide support for regional forces to capture or otherwise neutralize Kony and the LRA (which is incorrect).

Joseph Kony was born in 1961 in the village of Odek among the Acholi people of northern Uganda. He inherited power through his aunt because she was the tribe's mystic who started the Holy Spirit Movement, which sought to unseat the Kampala government. This movement was started by his aunt, Alice Auma, and required that the Acholi people retake the capital city Kampala. It was believed that doing so would redeem the Acholi from the violence they had collectively done to the civilians of the Luwero triangle and initiate a paradise on earth.

Even though this movement failed, Kony used a similar spiritual base. He believed that he was a prophet sent from God to purify the people of Uganda and to create a bastion of peace. Kony had been a soldier with the Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA), which got him involved in military affairs. The leaders of the UPDA signed an agreement with the Ugandan government called the Gulu Peace Accord of 1988 in which most of the former rebels were integrated into the government's army. Kony refused to go along with the agreement and splintered off with other soldiers. With the combination of his military background and religious beliefs he created the Uganda Christian Democratic Army and began fighting against the government. In 1991 he changed the name of the group to the Lord's Resistance Army.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, operated in the north from bases in southern Sudan. The LRA committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children. In addition to destabilizing northern Uganda from bases in Sudan, the LRA congregated in the Bunia area in eastern Congo. They linked up with the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) and other rebel groups that were battling with forces from the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD).

The LRA continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. Although its levels of activity diminished somewhat compared with 1997, the area that the LRA targeted grew. The LRA sought to overthrow the Ugandan Government and inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda. LRA forces also targeted local government officials and employees. The LRA also targeted international humanitarian convoys and local NGO workers.

The LRA abducted large numbers of civilians for training as guerrillas. Most victims were children and young adults. The LRA abducted young girls as sex and labor slaves. Other children, mainly girls, were reported to have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the whereabouts of many children remain unknown.

In particular, the LRA abducted numerous children and, at clandestine bases, terrorized them into virtual slavery as guards, concubines, and soldiers. In addition to being beaten, raped, and forced to march until exhausted, abducted children were forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted to escape. Amnesty International reported that without child abductions, the LRA would have few combatants. More than 6,000 children were abducted during 1998, although many of those abducted later escaped or were released. Most human rights NGOs placed the number of abducted children held captive by the LRA at around 3,000, although estimates varied substantially.

Civil strife in the north of Uganda led to the violation of the rights of many members of the Acholi tribe, which was largely resident in the northern districts of Gulu and Kitgum. Both government forces and the LRA rebels, who themselves largely are Acholi, committed violations. LRA fighters in particular were implicated in the killing, maiming, and kidnapping of Acholi tribe members, although the number and severity of their attacks decreased somewhat compared with 1997.

The LRA rebels stated that they fought for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. They were notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines. More than one-half-million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts had been displaced by the fighting and lived in temporary camps, protected by the army.

As the years progressed, the LRA lessened their attacks in Uganda and began to attack other regions. They spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR). The LRA continued to move between these 3 regions and evaded capture despite the efforts made by joint military operations of the countries. The LRA continued to plague these regions with their only goal being survival. They performed raids on remote locations to gather food, money, or people which would help sustain their rebellion.

The last LRA attacks in Uganda were in 2006, but Kony and other senior figures remain at large. One, Dominic Ongwen, was apprehended in 2015 and is awaiting trial at the ICC in the Hague. Thought to now number no more than 200 to 300 fighters, the group still carried out attacks in recent years in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic. At least 13,000 members of the LRA have been granted amnesty in Uganda, according to official figures.

Belief in spirit power and in channeling remains widespread and vigorous among the Acholi people. The Kony movements profound failure and its many killings have caused many Acholi to re-examine and reject, based on empirical evidence, the assertion that Kony has spirit power. The population still fears Kony. But many stated they now believe that his power derives not from spirits, but from Sudan.

In the view of many Acholis, the Government of Sudan assisted the LRA in retaliation for Ugandan Government support of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the southern Sudanese insurgency which for many years waged an armed struggle against the Khartoum government.

When President Obama came into office in 2008, the LRA had about 800 troops. When the bill was signed into law in 2010, Kony had about half that number. Today, thanks in large part to the military operations and the defection campaign that are supported by U.S. troops in the field, theres only about 190 to 200 troops left, Paul Ronan, project director at Washington-based Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, said in August 2015.

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