Group Active across Three Countries, Say Senior Officials, also Reporting Rising Piracy, Mounting Political Tensions as Electoral Cycles Begin
Central Africa’s security and humanitarian crisis triggered by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) should not be underestimated, senior United Nations and African Union officials in the region told the Security Council today, urging all forces involved in combating the armed group to sustain their momentum and coordinate more closely in order to eliminate its influence.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the region (document S/2015/914), Abdoulaye Bathily, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), said the LRA was particularly active in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It had adapted to the strong collective response by keeping a low profile, buying time and taking advantage of coordination gaps in hopes that fatigue and competing priorities would weaken resolve.
“We must not fall into this trap,” he warned, emphasizing that UNOCA was focused on implementation of the United Nations regional strategy to address the LRA threat. Alongside the African Union, it had convened the bi-annual coordination meeting of LRA focal points in Uganda in September, he said, adding that he was encouraged by the renewed engagement of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
More broadly in the region, intercommunal violence in the Central African Republic had generated refugees and gross human rights violations, particularly in Bangui, he continued. It had also weakened the national reconciliation process and fostered small arms as well as gang-related crime. It was critical to implement the recommendations of the Bangui Forum for National Reconciliation, especially on security-sector reform, and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, he stressed.
Turning to the Lake Chad Basin, he noted that Boko Haram had increased its attacks against civilian and military targets, while an influx of refugees had overstretched Government capacities and limited service delivery. The Joint Summit of Central and West African Heads of State and Government must take place without delay with a view to addressing the root causes of terrorism and radicalization, he said, underlining that support from international partners was also crucial, as were early recovery and development activities as part of a holistic approach to countering terrorism.
The number of piracy cases in the Gulf of Guinea had increased, especially off the Bakassi Peninsula, he continued, adding that pirates were now committing rape — a new and disturbing phenomenon. Moreover, not much progress had been made in implementing decisions taken at the 2013 Yaoundé Summit, including on making full use of the Inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea.
He encouraged the African Union to hold its Extraordinary Summit on Maritime Security and Development for Africa, originally scheduled for November, as soon as possible. Emphasizing the “major challenge” of curbing the illicit trade in wildlife and natural resources, a key source of funding for armed groups such as the LRA, he said UNOCA stood ready to support the development of a subregional strategy to address the growing phenomenon of poaching.
Because several Central African countries had entered an electoral cycle that would run up to 2018, he said, there were mounting political tensions in the region, stemming in part from disputes over national constitutions and a lack of political consensus. He said he would use his good offices to engage with stakeholders and encourage peaceful dispute resolution.
The Council then heard from Jackson K. Tuwei, Special Envoy of the African Union for LRA issues, who spoke via video link from Nairobi, describing efforts by the African Union Regional Cooperation Initiative to eliminate LRA in remote areas of the Central African Republic, north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
According to bodyguards of LRA leader Joseph Kony, the group comprised 230 fighters today, he said, adding that one faction operated in north-eastern Central African Republic, outside the reach of the African Union Regional Task Force. A second faction operated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, poaching elephants, while a third was a conduit in the Central African Republic for the delivery of ivory to Mr. Kony. In addition, LRA was trafficking gold looted from mines in the Central African Republic and using the proceeds to buy food, arms and drugs. It also abducted travellers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to carry looted items and serve as sex slaves.
He went on to note that LRA incidents in the Central African Republic had been low in 2015, due in part to pressure from the Task Force and an “opportunistic relationship” with ex-Séléka leaders which enabled the LRA to obtain food and safe passage between the two countries. However, abductions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been high, and the numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees were growing, having reached 200,000 in June, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Calling for urgent actions to address civilian displacement, he said that the Regional Task Force, supported by United States Special Forces in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, continued to target LRA leaders and facilitate humanitarian assistance, thereby weakening the group. On the political front, UNOCA had led an African Union delegation to Khartoum from 12 to 15 September, to verify allegations contained in the report of an LRA presence in Kafia Kingi. Noting that he had met with representatives of the United States and European Union, as well as with the Deputy Force Commander of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), he welcomed South Sudan’s “green light” to launch a joint fact-finding mission on the LRA’s presence in Kafia Kingi.
He said he had been working with the Special Representative to sustain momentum against the LRA, citing a joint mission from 17 to 20 November to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and meetings with foreign and defence ministers as well as with the Deputy Head of MONUSCO. The LRA continued to pose a significant threat, including in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State, where it had disrupted deliveries to the Regional Task Force, which itself was operating at 50 per cent of its authorized force strength. The LRA’s cooperation with ex-Séléka and Janjaweed fighters posed additional challenges.
Urging urged closer coordination among all forces engaged in countering the LRA, he pressed the European Union in particular to improve its logistical support to the Regional Task Force and to curtail the LRA’s logistics supply chain. He also requested the Council to monitor the LRA situation in Western Equatoria state until the threat was eliminated.
The meeting began at 10:21 a.m. and ended at 10:46 a.m.