UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
UGANDA: Army raids LRA headquarters in southern Sudan
KAMPALA, 29 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - The Ugandan army said on Thursday it had killed over 120 fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) during a surprise attack on the rebel headquarters in southern Sudan, but the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, who was in the camp, survived the raid.
"So far we have counted 120 rebel bodies at the battle scene in Bileniang. We missed Kony by a whisker, but captured some of his personal belongings, including his pips, walkie-talkie, VHF radio, wives and children," Maj Shaban Bantariza, the Ugandan army spokesman told IRIN in the capital, Kampala.
Lt Paddy Ankunda, the army spokesman in the northern region told IRIN by phone: "We captured four of his more than 30 wives, 28 fighters and a lot of his personal equipment. We are actually still trying to verify whether Kony died, but if he survived he is grossly incapacitated."
Bantariza said the surprise raid on Kony's makeshift headquarters was launched from different directions, suprising rebel fighters who were guarding the camp.
"Kony ran away but we don't know whether we injured him. We captured some 36 guns, rocket launchers, several types of bombs, a bazooka, landmines and hand grenades. We did not lose any of our soldiers," he told IRIN said.
According to Bantariza, Kony had established his headquarters at Bileniang, 200 km north of the Uganda-Sudan border in order to escape the Ugandan army's reach, which had been restricted to the south of a "red line" by an agreement with the Sudanese government.
He said the camp, located east of the southern Sudanese town of Juba was attacked after the Sudanese army waived the restriction and allowed the Ugandan army to operate north of the Juba-Nisitu highway. The highway marks the "red line".
The waiver followed recent protests by Kampala to Khartoum that Kony was hiding in areas controlled by the Sudanese army. "We had been telling Sudan to allow us go in since they were not doing enough to hunt these thugs down. So we crossed the red line and hit Kony's camp. It was strategically necessary," Bantariza said.
Ankunda said: "We shall not leave that area of southern Sudan until Kony is dead. Our Sudanese counterparts are cooperating well."
The LRA, which claims it wants to topple the Ugandan government and replace it with one based on the Biblical Commandments, habitually targets children. It abducts the children and forcefully recruits them into its ranks and turns the girls into wives for its commanders.
Up to 12,000 children, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), have been abducted by the rebels since June 2002. Approximately 44,000 children in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts trek into towns each night from their villages to seek shelter from the threat of LRA attacks and abductions.
UNICEF, in a June humanitarian situation report, said the escalation of the conflict had precipitated a deterioration of the situation in at least eight districts in the north and northeast.
Attempts by local leaders in the region to initiate dialogue between the LRA and the government have so far failed. The rebels are elusive while the government insists on a military solution to the conflict. Over the last few months, the army had captured several senior LRA commanders.
In January, the Ugandan government asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the crimes committed by the LRA. The ICC prosecutor was expected to formally announce the investigation on Thursday.
According to human rights groups the LRA has engaged in the abduction, execution, torture, mutilation, rape, and sexual assault of thousands of Ugandan civilians, including children. "It is essential that the ICC take measures to guard witnesses and victims from reprisals," Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Thursday.
"It is imperative that the ICC conducts an impartial investigation in Uganda," he added. "The ICC has the authority to investigate crimes committed by all sides in the conflict, not just the LRA."
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