While Gaza maintains the top headlines, deep in the bowels of Africa the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has spread its brand of violence across four nations. Uganda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), and the Central African Republic (CAR) have all reported violent attacks and increasing incursions.
Since an offensive started during the Christmas Massacres of 2008, 620 are dead, 400 were abducted, and 100,000 refugees have fled their homes. The death toll is difficult to establish. The figure of 620 comes from a report released today by Human Rights Watch. It covers the period from 24 December 2008 to 13 January 2009. Other organizations have cited 400 or 500. The latter figure was used by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) condemnation of the events occurring. Yet one this is certain: the number is rising.
Yet the UNSC has little direct sway over events. The Lord’s Resistance Army is not a member of the United Nations. Thus sanctions and threats hold little influence over their actions. The facts on the ground show who has power. And the LRA is not withholding any of its power, which it has unleashed upon innocent people region-wide.
Disfigurement, dismemberment, looting, raping, sexual slavery, kidnapping, and the burning of schools, churchs, even whole villages make it sound like this was a modern day advent of the Vikings. Some science fiction dystopia. But this is not a historical textbook or a Hollywood movie. This is true, raw human brutality. Bats and axes used to cause the mass-murders have been found left behind at the scenes of carnage.
“Hundreds of people have been slaughtered and this just goes on,” said Joel Bisubu of Justice Plus. “We need food and medical supplies for the injured, but even more, we need protection.”Justice Plus is a Congolese NGO. Joel Bisubu is quite familiar with the carnage of Sub-Saharan Africa, having reported on it for years.
“People are forced to choose between peace and justice. But you can't have peace without justice. The people who are dead are dead. But if you try to compromise peace for justice, that doesn't help.”Human Rights Watch, though, backdates the latest outbreak of violence to a combined offensive begun by Uganda, with the support of Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo:— Joel Bisubu, regarding the Congolese civil war, 2006
“The LRA attacks followed the beginning of a joint military operation on December 14, led by the Ugandan army with support from the Congolese, Southern Sudanese, and Central African Republic armies. The Ugandan army attacked the LRA headquarters in Congo's Garamba National Park, near the border with Sudan.
Following the attack, the LRA dispersed into several groups, each of which targeted civilians along its path. The rebels waited until December 24 for the most devastating of their attacks, waiting until people had come together for Christmas festivities, then surrounding and killing them by crushing their skulls with axes, machetes, and large wooden bats. Most of the few who survived also had head wounds, but two 3-year-old girls had serious neck injuries, suffered when LRA combatants tried to twist off their heads.
In the village of Batande, three miles from Doruma, near the Sudanese border, the LRA killed at least 80 people on December 25 when village residents had gathered for Christmas lunch after the morning church service. LRA members surrounded the people, tied them up with rope or rubber strips from bicycle tires, and then separated the men and boys from the women and girls. They took the men and boys about 40 meters from the church and killed them immediately with blows to the head. They took the women and girls into the forest in small groups and raped many of them before crushing their skulls.”
It is obvious that “Operation Lighting Thunder” the military offensive designed to purge the region or force the LRA to sign a peace deal, only stirred the hornet’s nest. After the 14 December campaign opened against them, all pretense of ethical behavior and all the laws of war were thrown out the window. Any Christian beliefs once espoused by the Lord’s Resistance Army were buried alongside the bloody bodies and burned up in the flames of torched houses of worship.
Episcopal Reaction in Sudan
The death of a Christian lay reader, Wilson, who tried to rescue two young boys abducted in the Episcopal Diocese of Mundri, has spurred a call to action. Matthew Davies of Episcopal Life covers the story in full detail, including more history regarding the conflict. His article describes how Wilson and another young man learned that the LRA had kidnapped two children, and set off in pursuit. When they caught up to the LRA, they were brutally killed. Yet in a way, Wilson’s efforts succeeded. The boys, though horribly traumatized by the event, were left alive alongside the road by the departing soldiers.
Others have not been so lucky. A reverend’s daughter abducted along with 11 others from a village. Entire villages of elderly people, women and children being forced to flee dozens of miles head of the fighting. The dead and the wounded.
Alexander Baumgarten, international policy analyst for the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, has called for U.S. Episcopalians and others to focus their support on two particular partner organizations: Resolve Uganda and Enough! Project. While the news is very grim, the summation of optimism can still be found in the words of Janet O’Neill, of Episcopal Relief and Development:
The key question is whether a settlement can be achieved with people who commit such atrocities with impunity. While it would be heartening to see true Christ-like conversions to a life of peace and goodwill from an existance of rapine and murder, many of the soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army are not likely to give up the lifestyles they have become accustomed to. It is time work towards such miracles for the people of Africa.
"We need to act to shine whatever light can be brought into this dark, dark situation. We must pray for peace, advocate for peace, demand that politicians in the region pursue a settlement with the LRA. We must mobilize resources to ensure that the lack of food and shelter can be met and the basic humanitarian needs are provided."— Janette O'Neill, Episcopal Relief and Development Fund