Ugandan LRA may face retaliatory action

Sudan is likely to strike back at the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which it once supported, following an attack by the rebel group on its troops in southern Sudan last week, according to a Sudanese diplomat.

Sirajudin Hamid, Charge D'affaires at the Sudanese embassy in Uganda, told IRIN from Kampala that Sudanese authorities would take "the right action" to defend Sudanese soldiers from future LRA attacks, after a reported attack on Wednesday 20 March, and would continue to cooperate with the Ugandan government's campaign against the LRA.

"They [the LRA] did kill some Sudanese soldiers, and there must be some sort of action which will be determined by those in charge," Hamid said, adding that he had no details regarding the action to be taken.

Led by Joseph Kony (and previously supported by Sudan, in relatiation for Ugandan support for the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army), the LRA has fought Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's secular government since 1988, from bases in southern Sudan, ostensibly to establish a rule based on the Biblical Ten Commandments.

LRA operations have included the killing and abduction of civilians in northern Uganda, the looting of people's goods and destruction of their homes, such that humanitarian officials have described its operations as a war against the civilian population and not the Kampala government.

The LRA attack on SPAF troops closely followed the 10 March signing of a protocol by Sudan and Uganda, which permits the Ugandan army to pursue the LRA group inside Sudanese territory.

The protocol - in which they said they were currently cooperating and coordinating efforts "to contain the problems caused by the Lord's Resistance Army [LRA] across the Sudanese-Ugandan borders" - was the latest significant step the two countries had undertaken in the implementation of a series of reconciliation agreements the two countries have signed since 1999.
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According to media reports, a group of LRA fighters attacked Sudanese army units in Nisitu and Jabuleini, southern Sudan, on 20 March, killing an "unspecified" number of soldiers, including a Ugandan army captain.

Some 100 LRA fighters, led by senior commanders, were involved in attacking the Sudan Peoples Armed Forces (SPAF) units in surprise raids at around 9.30 am on Wednesday morning, AFP news agency reported.

The Ugandan-government owned New Vision newspaper reported in Kampala on Monday that the number of soldiers killed in Wednesday's attack was 22, including the Ugandan captain. Two UPDF soldiers, who were overseeing implementation of the 10 March protocol, were still missing, it said.

"The Sudan government is tired of [Joseph] Kony. He will have nowhere to hide," the New Vision quoted UPDF commander James Kazini as saying. "We shall send in more troops in Sudan to boost up our forces there."

Hamid said he had no details of whether his government and Uganda were planning any joint operation to fight the LRA, following the group's attack on the SPAF. "They [the Sudanese and Ugandan governments and armies] are cooperating and coordinating. The issue now is whether there will be an expansion or extension of the scope of the existing cooperation," he said.

Uganda Foreign Minister Amama Mbabazi had hinted that the scope of the current cooperation protocol between Kampala and Khartoum could now be expanded to include the involvement of Sudanese soldiers against the LRA, according to the Ugandan media.

"We are back now at the designing table, taking into account these new developments, and I hope the Sudanese forces will work with us to fight this new crime committed by Kony," the New Vision on Saturday quoted him as saying.

"We have deployed there [in Sudan] to finish the job of Kony. We are there to search, find and destroy Kony and we are in the final stages of getting him."

UPDF spokesman Shaban Bantariza told IRIN on Monday that the decision on whether or not to renegotiate the protocol rested with the heads of states of Uganda and Sudan.

"They [Sudanese soldiers] were not supposed to be involved [in the military operation against the LRA inside Sudan], but now they have been attacked," he said. "The two presidents will decide if they want to extend the terms of the protocol or not. As soldiers, we will fight our own war and let the politicians do their work."

Under the current protocol, the UPDF had two weeks - until 2 April - in which to pursue the LRA inside Sudan, but Bantariza said on Monday that the Ugandan army operation had not got underway.

"We haven't started fighting yet. We are still putting our things together. We have made a lot of progress in the planning," he added.