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The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)

A number of millenarian religions (promising a "golden age," or millennium) existed in Uganda in the 1980s. They had often arisen in response to rapid culture change or other calamities and sought to overthrow the political order that allowed the crisis to arise. Many millenarian religions, sometimes called cults, are led by a charismatic prophet who promises followers relief from sufferings. The strength of people's faith sometimes allows a prophet to make extraordinary demands on believers.

The Holy Spirit Movement arose in the 1980s in Acholi territory of northern Uganda, where warfare and political killings had ravaged society for nearly two decades. Alice Lakwena, an Acholi prophet, claimed to bring messages from the spiritual world advising people, even though unarmed, to oppose government intervention in Acholi territory. Lakwena, known locally as "Alice," also advised her followers with Holy Spirit Safety Precautions which reportedly included:

  • rubbing their chests with shea-butter oil, to immunize themselves against the bullets of their enemies;
  • never taking cover against enemy fire, but marching straight toward the enemy;
  • transforming stones into exploding grenades by placing them in pails of water in which hot metal had also been immersed;
  • singing Christian hymns as they march into battle;
  • neither eating food nor shaking hands with non-Holy Spirit members;
  • killing no bees or snakes, the allies of the Holy Spirit Movement; and
  • having no more or less than two testicles.

In November and December 1986 in her first attacks, Alice achieved two stunning victories. In Kilak Corner and in Pajule, both in southern Kitgum, her methods took the army by surprise, defeated its forces after sustained fighting, and captured many weapons and supplies. Alices success reportedly electrified thousands of Acholi youth, who in the next months were eager to join her. During 1987, however, the Holy Spirit Movement suffered increasingly serious reverses. In November 1987 her forces were surrounded and destroyed in the Bugembe Forest. Alice herself escaped to Kenya, where she was accorded political asylum.

A self-proclaimed mystic, Joseph Kony, and Odong Latek succeeded her as leaders of the Holy Spirit Movement. The appeal of the Holy Spirit Movement continued, and in early 1989, it disrupted the establishment of the grass-roots resistance councils (RCs), which were intended to serve as the base for a people's democracy under the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Government officials proclaimed periods of amnesty and sought to weaken the Holy Spirit Movement's appeal by cutting off supplies of weapons (and cooking oil) to the region.


In 1987 the LRA began its insurgency due to President Museveni of Uganda's move to abolish all political parties in Uganda. The LRA stated that they fought for the people and Joseph Kony declared himself a prophet of God, sent to restore Uganda's government and to establish rule based on Christian ideals. His group was poorly supported by the northerners of Uganda and so Kony responded by attacking the local populace in order to supply his rebellion.

In 1993, Betty Bigombe, the Minister for the Pacification of the North, led peace negotiations between the Government of Uganda and the LRA. The talks were reportedly within hours of completion when President Museveni issued a 7-day ultimatum for the rebels to surrender which effectively ended the peace process and led to the continuation of the conflict.

Some also accused the Sudan of supporting the LRA and Uganda of allegedly supporting the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement that fought against the Sudanese government. Although both governments denied the accusations, they severed diplomatic relations with each other on 22 April 1995. However, relations between the 2 countries improved. In 1999, Sudan and Uganda signed an agreement under which Sudan said it would stop aiding the LRA and Uganda would stop aiding the SPLA.

In 2002, the Ugandan government launched a military offensive against the LRA, Operation Iron Fist, which caused the rebels to move into the Lango and Teso regions of northern Uganda.

At the end of 2005, President Museveni of Uganda threatened to send troops into the DRC should MONUC and the Forces Armees de la Republic Democratic du Congo (FARDC) fail to disarm the LRA. The ICC unsealed arrest warrants for 5 LRA commanders, including Joseph Kony. The LRA increased attacks in Sudan and northern Uganda. The DRC and Uganda discussed the LRA issue during a Tripartite Plus One Joint Commission meeting to defuse tensions.

On 23 January 2006, the LRA attacked and killed 8 UN peacekeepers in Garamba National Park in the DRC. The attack also injured 5 others. The firefight lasted 4 hours until Nepalese peacekeepers were able to arrive.

In May 2006, Ugandan President Museveni issued a 2-month ultimatum for the LRA to surrender in which he assured the safety of Joseph Kony.

In July 2006, Kampala offered amnesty to LRA leaders in the event of a peace agreement. On 14 July 2006, peace talks were initiated between the LRA and Uganda.

On 4 August 2006, the LRA announced a unilateral ceasefire that was to take effect immediately. On 12 August 2006, the Ugandan military ambushed and killed LRA third-in-command Raska Lukwiya. Lukwiya was one of 5 rebel leaders charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Despite the killing, peace talks continued.

On 26 August 2006, the LRA and Ugandan officials agreed to a truce through the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. In the agreement, both sides adopted measures that would cease any conflict between them and they also agreed to stop any propaganda that would have undermined the peace process. The agreement also set up some parameters for the peace talks.

In February 2007, peace talks stalled due to the request of the LRA that the mediators and the venue of the talks be changed. The LRA argued that both the site and the mediators were not neutral.

In March 2007, a string of efforts from Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano, Ugandan leaders, and the South Sudanese mediators led to reengagement of the parties. Agreement was reached on continuing the talks in south Sudan with reported support for the mediation team from South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and the DRC.

In June 2007, the Ugandan government and the LRA agreed to a deal on justice and accountability issues that called for addressing war crimes through local legal procedures. The deal also included procedures through national courts and a traditional justice mechanism known as Mato-Oput, comprised mostly of truth-telling and compensation.

In November 2007, a LRA delegation made a trip to Kampala to meet with Ugandan government officials. LRA officials also began consulting with communities in northern Uganda to gauge their opinions on whether indicted LRA leaders should face ICC prosecution or be tried within the framework of local justice procedures.

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