Acholi Church Leaders: LRA Is A Threat To Independent South Sudan

The independence of South Sudan will be meaningless if threats posed by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels are largely ignored by the southern government, members of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) have warned.

The semi-autonomous region has just concluded its self-determination referendum, where the population overwhelming voted for separation. The vote was a key part of Sudan’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended over two decades of a bloody civil war fought between north and south of the country.

While addressing journalists at the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) premises, ARLPI Chairman, Bishop Mark Baker Ochola expressed concern over the latest wave of LRA attacks reported in parts of Western Equatoria State (WES). He said that if the issue is not tackled, the insurgency could escalate and overshadow South Sudan’s independence status due in July.

Intensified LRA attacks, in recent days, have displaced hundreds of innocent civilians in Tumbora county of Western Equatoria. According to reports received by Sudan Tribune, so far in 2011 three have been killed and one person abducted by the LRA in the southern state, which border Central African Republic where the LRA are now believed to be based.

Bishop Ochola, however, remains optimistic that the conflict could only be resolved peacefully, as opposed to the joint military operation launched by armies from Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“In 1991 operation north forced the people of northern Uganda into IDP [Internally Displaced Peoples] camps. Later in 2002, they launched operation iron fist against the LRA which was against our wish as religious leaders. Even the 2008 operation lightening thunder, which Acholi religious leaders opposed also failed,” Bishop Ochola remarked.

He added, “Why do these governments still believe in the military option yet past records indicate that it has completely failed?”

Last year, the U.S. Congress cleared legislation requiring President Barack Obama to devise a six-month strategy seeking to help capture the leadership of the LRA and protect the civilian population in four eastern and central African countries where it operates.

The anti-LRA bill, signed by President Obama, urged the U.S. administration to spend up to $10m, a fund earmarked to deal with the humanitarian impact of the LRA and any campaign against it. An additional $10m would be spent each year over the next three to cater for reconciliation processes in Uganda.

An interfaith entity founded in 1997, ARLPI focuses on peace building and conflict transformation, bringing together leaders from the different religious denominations.

ARLPI also played key roles in the failed 2006-2008 Juba peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government, winning international accolades like the 2004 Niwano Peace Prize, Paul Carus Award 2004 (Spain) and the 2008 Peace Award from URI Africa (Ethiopia).

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