Civilians targeted in eastern CAR, LRA transports ivory through DRC

Overview
Armed groups continued to target civilians in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) in August, extending a trend of heightened violence in 2017 in the prefectures of Haute Kotto, Mbomou, and Haut Mbomou. Individuals identified as either armed civilians from the Peuhl ethnic minority or combatants from the Peuhl-dominated Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) were implicated in a series of attacks along CAR’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that left more than 60 people dead. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted 37 people in August 2017, primarily during attacks on small communities in DRC’s western Haut Uele province.

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Ex-Seleka, LRA target civilians in eastern CAR 
Violence has escalated sharply in the Central African prefectures of Haute Kotto, Mbomou, and Haut Mbomou in 2017, killing hundreds of people and displacing hundreds of thousands more. Violence has included struggles for territory and access to natural resources among ex-Seleka factions and anti-balaka groups as well as attacks on civilians, who are frequently targeted based on their perceived ethnic or religious identity. August was no exception. At least four incidents of violence were reported near the town of Zemio, including the killing of at least 11 people during an attack on displaced persons camped at the local hospital on August 18. All four attacks involved armed men from the Peuhl community, though it was difficult to determine whether the perpetrators were members of the Peuhl-dominated UPC or acting independently. The violence in Zemio has forced at least 10,000 people to flee into an area of DRC’s Bas Uele province where LRA groups frequently operate and target civilians. 

The LRA was responsible for four attacks in eastern CAR in August, most notably an August 9 attack 35km west of Obo in Haut Mbomou in which LRA combatants abducted seven people and killed a hunter. The abductees, all of whom were released three days later, included two women and a six-year-old girl. A separate LRA group attacked a mining camp near Sam Ouandja in Haute Kotto on August 16, near the location where an LRA group led by Aligac, a senior LRA commander, was operating in early July.

LRA forces move away from Garamba Park, but spotted carrying ivory
LRA groups attacked communities surrounding DRC’s Garamba National Park on 17 occasions from MayJuly 2017. The LRA groups operating in the area were led by senior commanders Owila and Ladere, who were following orders given by Joseph Kony in May 2017 to collect ivory. In August, Owila’s LRA group appears to have shifted further west in DRC’s Haut Uele province, away from Garamba. On August 14, Owila’s group ambushed 30 civilians traveling along the road between Ngilima and Bangadi, forcing them to shell peanuts. 15 were released that same day, while 15 others were forced to spend more than a week in captivity before being released 68 km away from the site of their abduction. Owila’s LRA group is likely also responsible for an August 22 attack near Zigbi and an August 24 attack near Bamangana in which a total of 16 people were abducted. Most of these abductees were also forced to porter looted goods for several days before being released.

The survivors abducted near Bambangana and later released reported that Owila’s group possessed 16 pieces of ivory. If true, the ivory may have been unearthed from caches buried by previous LRA groups in the Garamba area, as the LRA has not been directly linked to any elephant poaching in the region so far in 2017. The survivors also reported that Owila’s group was planning to transport the ivory into CAR. This information corroborates the northwestern movement of his group, as indicated by the sequence of incidents reported over the HF radio Early Warning System (see map below). The movements of Owila’s group in August and early September are consistent with trafficking routes LRA groups have historically used to transport ivory from Garamba into eastern CAR and to the Kafia Kingi enclave, where Kony’s inner circle barters it for food, medicine, and other supplies on the black market.

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Programmatic updates
In Obo, CAR, Invisible Children partnered with AFASVR, a community-based organization, and the local Peace Committee to organize a festival for internally displaced children and formerly abducted children. Fifty children spent the afternoon playing football and sharing a meal. They were later supported with care packages, including clothes and school supplies to help prepare for the beginning of the new school year.

The Peace Committee in Obo also held a meeting in which they decided to expand their efforts to mitigate intercommunal tensions. The community elected additional Peace Committee members to represent the growing population of internally displaced people who have come to Obo following the insecurity in Mboki and Zemio. The Committee made plans to meet twice a week in the coming months and to help enhance social cohesion through sensitization campaigns, peace workshops, and conflict management workshops.

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The LRA Crisis Tracker is a project of Invisible Children that incorporates data on armed group activity in the Mbomou-Uele border region, a geographic area that includes the prefectures of Haute Kotto, Mbomou, and Haut Mbomou in eastern CAR and areas of Haut Uele and Bas Uele provinces in northeastern DRC north of the Uele River. Information on armed group activity from neighboring areas of CAR, DRC, South Sudan, and Sudan is incorporated into our analysis of conflict dynamics in the Mbomou-Uele border region. Visit the LRA Crisis Tracker website at www.LRAcrisistracker.com