Bishops tell US leaders military option won't work against rebels

Friday September 17 2010

By Mark Kirumira, Washington

Two Ugandan bishops have told US officials that regional dialogue with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels would work better than a military option against it.

"The issue is no longer the LRA and Uganda," Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu told Catholic News Service in Washington on Wednesday. "The issue now is regional."

Archbishop Odama has headed the Gulu Archdiocese in northern Uganda since 1999 and, during that time, has worked to end hostilities between the UPDF and the LRA.

He travelled to Washington with Anglican Bishop MacLeord Baker Ochola II, retired bishop of Kitgum.

The bishops recently said they do not oppose the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which US President Barack Obama signed into law in May, but were urging US officials to end the use of force in dealing with the LRA.

The cited numerous occasions on which force did not work against the rebel group.
Efforts by the government to make peace with the rebels, on four times, through dialogue have yielded nothing with LRA leader Joseph Kony refusing to sign the peace agreement --- the last being in 2007.


The break in the talks forced the UPDF to launch an operation christened Lightening Thunder on the rebels’ bases in DR Congo.

But an LRA rebels’ delegation has reportedly written to the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon appealing for the resumption of the talks with the government.

The bishops met with State Department officials, who have until November to develop a strategy for disarming the LRA and they also met with congressional leaders.

"We are afraid," Archbishop Odama said.

"Let us bring [their] leaders together -- the new stakeholders."

Bishop Ochola said those opposed to peace -- those who advocate continued fighting -- should also be invited to the dialogue. He said the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative leaders have offered to mediate multiple times.

Since late 2008, the LRA have killed more than 2,500 civilians in southern Sudan. About 90,000 Sudanese in Western Equatoria province have been displaced from their homes, and 25,000 refugees from Congo and Central African Republic have sought refuge in the province.

Archbishop Odama and Bishop Ochola said capturing or killing Kony would not necessarily end the conflict, because the situation is so complex and includes splinter groups and tribal conflicts.

Kony and his bandits have shifted their base from northern Uganda and now operate in southern Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic.