By Raymond Baguma
THE Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels on Thursday released a group of women and child abductees who included Central Africans, South Sudanese and Congolese nationalities.
According to the US-based non-profit Invisible Children, a total of 26 women and children were released by the LRA near the community of Kiliwa, in DR Congo. However, there was no Ugandan.
The group included 11 women of whom two were Central Africans, one South Sudanese, and eight Congolese. There were also five girls aged between 14 and -17 years as well as 10 children below five years of age of whom three were boys and seven girls. The youngest of the returnees is one year old.
In a statement on Thursday, Invisible Children said, “Two civilians, working in their fields near Kiliwa, were approached by the group of women and children, who were being escorted by five male LRA forces. The women told the civilians to not be afraid and asked to be brought to the people who could help them find their families.”
Quoting civilians who witnessed the return, a statement by Michael Mubangizi, the NGO’s regional public relations and advocacy officer said the LRA combatants who escorted the women and children watched them for a long time as they were led into town.
“They even followed them for a while as they walked toward Kiliwa town, to make sure the women and children were received peacefully,” the statement read.
The two civilians then brought the women and children to security forces in town, who with several community members, provided the group with food.
According to Invisible Children, the group’s time in LRA captivity ranges between one and eight years. While still in captivity, the group reportedly left CAR 90 days ago to reach Kpaika, in DR Congo on August 31.
Over the past 30 days, LRA has released 72 women and children from long-term captivity. In August alone, a total of 46 women and children were released by LRA, according to Invisible Children.
Last month, the UPDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda attributed the ongoing release of the captives to pressure exerted on LRA by Ugandan troops based in Central African Republic under the AU Regional Task Force.
The UPDF is presently based in the LRA-prone areas of Nzara in South Sudan and Obo in CAR as part of the regional taskforce that was created in 2012 under an AU mechanism to eliminate the threat of LRA. Uganda remains the most active troop contributing country in the anti-LRA taskforce.
The other three countries – DR Congo, CAR and South Sudan are beset with domestic security challenges.
Also, U.S. Special Forces are deployed in the region since October 2011 to support UPDF operations in the hunt for the International Criminal Court-indicted LRA leader Joseph Kony and his commanders.
Invisible Children runs campaigns in LRA affected areas urging captives and fighters to peacefully surrender. The organization also runs ‘come home messages’ on selected radio stations, distributes leaflets and runs helicopter-mounted speakers in areas where LRA abductees and fighters operate.
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