By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Uganda's rebel army has stepped up a campaign of child abductions in the three countries where it operates, according to foreign investigators, humanitarian groups and Ugandan military authorities in the capital, Kampala.
The Lord's Resistance Army, a messianic armed movement that has waged a 21-year insurrection against the Ugandan government, has recently scooped up more than 100 boys and girls, human rights advocates and military officials say. The children are then forced into the rebel army ranks or made to serve as sexual hostages, rights investigators say.
The abductions are being carried out in southern Sudan, Congo and the Central African Republic -- three nations where the rebels maintain bases.
Last month, the group kidnapped 100 children in the Central African Republic and 30 others along the Sudan-Congo border, Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told the Associated Press in Kampala yesterday.
The statement confirmed reports received last month by the International Criminal Court in The Hague and raised recently during a conference in Washington by its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
The court is trying rebel commanders from Sierra Leone and Congo for war crimes involving the alleged forced recruitment of child soldiers. But Joseph Kony, the Uganda rebel leader, and his top commanders remain at large despite court-issued arrest warrants pending against them. According to media reports, Kony recently killed two of his top lieutenants who favored a peace accord with the Ugandan government.
The recent spike in child abductions comes in the midst of international efforts to help push a shaky two-year peace process between the government and the rebel army toward a conclusive settlement. The rebellion broke out in 1987, a year after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni came to power. The United Nations estimates that Kony's men have abducted 20,000 children since then.
Kony did not attend an April meeting where a final peace agreement was supposed to have been signed. He remained in his hideout in Garamba Park, Congo.
His rebel followers have also failed to assemble in demobilization areas designated under the peace deal.
"Kony and the LRA took advantage of the breathing room given to them and appear to be terrorizing civilians again," said Richard Dicker, the international justice director of Human Rights Watch, who called on governments and the United Nations to better monitor the rebel group's movements and weapon supply lines.
"Concerned governments and U.N. officials cannot sit by while the LRA goes on a criminal rampage, committing heinous abuses against children and other people," he said.
The London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said children were being forced to fight in 17 conflicts around the world, down from 27 in 2004.