After many months of unrest, the government of the Central African Republic has been overthrown by a rebel group known as Seleka. The country’s constitution has been thrown out and Seleka is in the midst of forming a new government.
Unfortunately, not only have civilians near CAR’s capital been victims to violence and theft, but the regime change also majorly affects international efforts to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army. Today, we received multiple reports from the ground that the counter-LRA operation led by the Ugandan military (UPDF) and supported by U.S. advisers has been temporarily suspended.
Invisible Children is strongly urging the international community to make sure that the suspension is indeed temporary. The international community has made commitments and to renege would allow the LRA to terrorize the civilian population undeterred.
The mission has reportedly been suspended, at least temporarily, as Uganda weighs their ability to continue supporting the counter-LRA mission under the newly formed CAR government. The U.S. role is advisory and depends, in this case, on the UPDF continuing to take the lead on counter-LRA efforts. A full suspension by the U.S. and UPDF would result in a complete lack of pursuit of the LRA in CAR, a shift that would be potentially devastating for the civilian population who depends on these external forces for protection.
Invisible Children’s CEO, Ben Keesey, responded to the week’s events this way:
The United States’ temporary suspension of counter-LRA operations in CAR as a result of Seleka’s takeover of Bangui is disappointing, but understandable. This kind of government instability is what Joseph Kony and the LRA have exploited for far too long. Once again, this regional instability could allow Kony to strengthen his forces and commit further atrocities.
We call on the international community to ensure that this difficult situation in CAR does not reverse the enormous gains made against the LRA. In the last three years, annual killings by the LRA decreased from 706 to 51. Just this week, 28 women and children escaped LRA captivity as a result of the comprehensive strategy. All of this life-saving progress will be threatened if the counter-LRA mission is not able to resume after this temporary suspension.
As the international community starts to engage with the newly-installed government in CAR, they should find to a way to continue and even strengthen the AU-authorized mission to end LRA violence.
The unrest caused by the government overthrow has been generally contained to the area surrounding the capital city of Bangui, which is over 400 miles from the territory in southeastern CAR that the LRA has operated in for the last five years. Southeastern CAR has been the focal point of the counter-LRA mission as well as the area that Invisible Children has established its Protection programs in the country.
Invisible Children’s regional staff remains in the country and all of our protection programs in the area continue to operate. We will continue to support the life-saving programs that have been built, and we are asking the same thing of the people, governments, and institutions of the world.
Just one month ago, a civil society leader in CAR said this about the counter-LRA mission: “[People of southeastern Central African Republic] are very thankful to the American forces and the UPDF because they are helping them to secure this area. Now people can sleep fine. People can go do their activities.”
Recent developments in CAR cannot be an excuse to abandon the commitments made to apprehend top LRA leadership and to protect vulnerable communities in southeast CAR.