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Why UPDF has failed to uproot Kony rebellion

By Vision Reporter

Added 1st July 2003 03:00 AM

Proper ammunition and a supportive population are the basic necessities for the survival of any guerrilla group the world over

Proper ammunition and a supportive population are the basic necessities for the survival of any guerrilla group the world over

By Joshua Kato

Proper ammunition and a supportive population are the basic necessities for the survival of any guerrilla group the world over. Logically, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has managed to survive through the years because they have both these aspects. Once they are denied these, they cannot live through three months.

In the last two weeks, the LRA have infiltrated Teso, attempting a daring raid on the main town, Soroti but the co-operation the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) is receiving in Teso has put the conflict in check.

Shaban Bantariza, the UPDF spokesman, has lauded the kind of co-operation the UPDF has received in Teso.

“Mobilisation by nearly all leaders has been tremendous,” he says. Bantariza is optimistic that if the same level of mobilisation was done in Acholi, Kony would be no more.

He says that now the LRA are operating in a “foreign land,” they have dug their own grave and might perish in Teso.

The defeat of Alice Lakwena in 1988 is attributed partly to the fact that she made a mistake of leaving her natural bases in Acholi and moved east. She was defeated at Magamaga near Jinja.

UPDF’s Operation Iron Fist launched in March last year managed to uproot Kony rebels from most of their bases in the Sudan but the rebellion still goes on.

“Operation Iron Fist was a major success in military terms. We captured weapons worthy sh4b from Kony and occupied his bases in the Sudan and in most parts of Acholi,” Bantariza says.

The UPDF spokesman was quoted on BBC radio as saying that many of the rebels live normal civilian lives during the day, but turn into rebels at night.

He gave an example of a family in Gulu, that had four children, three of them seemingly living normal lives during the day, only to turn into killers at night.

Soldiers on the ground can testify that on several occasions, they have been given wrong directions by the population. Major Ssesanga was killed in July last year for getting wrong information.

“Afande asked a group of people if the rebels had passed by. They said no, which made him drive into their ambush,” a soldier who was under Ssesanga’s unit says.

“We get very little genuine information from the population about the operations of the bandits,” the soldier said. He talked of a very indifferent population, perhaps intimidated into submission by the acts of Kony.

“These things have to be said. We should stop claiming that the people of Acholi do not support rebellion. Some sections do,” the soldier says. He said every time the UPDF suffers casualties, he sees people celebrating in Gulu.

Nobert Mao, the Member Parliament for Gulu Municipality, blames the Government for failing to win the hearts of the people of Acholi.

He says that he has been encouraging people in his area to give information about rebels to the Government but they have been let down by the army. Mao talked of UPDF torturing people trying to give them information and even killing them.

However, Bantariza says that no civilian has ever been killed for giving information. “All the information the army gets is treated with confidentiality, as a way of encouraging more people to come out and talk,” he says. He adds that even captured LRA and rescued children are well taken care of.

The UPDF has managed to defeat at least 14 rebel groups in the last 16 years. They included the Uganda People’s Army (UPA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Also defeated include the West Nile Bank Front, The Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF II), The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) among others.

One reason these rebel groups were defeated is that the army got 80% support from the population. For example, Itongwa’s NDA was defeated largely using information given to the army by civilians.

In western Uganda, civilians joined the UPDF to fight the ADF.

Member of Parliament for Aswa County sReagan Okumu blames, among other things, indiscipline in the army as one of the factors preventing the war from ending.

He says the army views civilians with mistrust. He denies that the Acholi support Kony. When the National Resistance Army (NRA) fought its way into Acholi in 1986, they were seen as occupiers rather than liberators.

According to Lt. General Salim Saleh, some of the first units that stepped in the north abused the population. Worse still, the soldiers and their leaders never made any efforts to win the hearts and minds of the population.

Rather than go for outright war, Saleh is calling for an adoption of a multi-dimensional approach to the problem.

His approach includes improving earnings of the population by allowing them to farm near their camps. Saleh says that such projects will need more soldiers to guard the camps for relative safety.

The entire northern Uganda has three divisions of at least 10,000 soldiers each. How did the rebels manage to move to Teso? Where was the intelligence on the ground?

Sources in the military said that they got wind of the LRA movements. However, deployment was impeded by lack of transports.

President Museveni lamented that while the army has acquired a number of attack helicopter gunships, they still lack transport planes to simultaneously deploy commandos to fight on the ground, while the planes attack from the air.

To purchase Mi-17 helicopters, government needs at least $10m for a set of three. However, at Entebbe airport is a transport plane that seems abandoned. The C-130 cargo plane is one of the best troop carriers ever manufactured. It can operate from any airstrip, with a capacity of close to 120 soldiers. In the Soroti case, the plane would have brought in at least 1,000 troops in a space of 24 hours. Sources say that the plane needs between $2-3m for repairs.

Fighting guerrillas is a nasty experience. This is because guerrillas live like part of the population. Some tactics are bitter, yet to win a guerrilla war, these tactics may have to be employed.

The Indonesian government, that has for many years been faced by an uprising in Aceh one of its provinces is currently carrying out a massive offensive, using a mixture of scorched earth policies and mass arrests.

Lt. General Tinyefunza, who has been re-deployed in the North-East to co-ordinate the war used a near scorched earth policy in the late 80s and early 90s, while fighting insurgency in Teso. He was castigated, but by the end of the day, there was no more insurgency in Teso. Tinyefuza has now been redeployed, will he bring the Kony rebellion to the end?

Why UPDF has failed to uproot Kony rebellion

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