Kony orders elephant poaching, LRA leaders spotted near Kafia Kingi

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Armed group violence in eastern Central African Republic (CAR) continued in July, with violent clashes involving ex-Seleka, anti-balaka, and armed Peuhl civilians breaking out in the towns of Bangassou, Bria, and other hotspots. Intercommunal violence reached into the far southeastern corner of CAR for the first time in 2017 with the murder of five Peuhl civilians, including two women and a young girl, near Obo on July 14.

LRA violence dropped in July compared to the previous two months, a seasonal trend consistent with historical patterns of reduced LRA activity between July–November. LRA attacks in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were concentrated east of Garamba National Park, where LRA groups have been operating following recent orders from Joseph Kony to poach elephants. In eastern CAR, an LRA group entered the town of Kotto 3 on July 5 and asked community leaders for food. Photos taken during the meeting confirm that the LRA group was led by Aligac, a former bodyguard to Kony and now one of his most trusted officers.

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Senior LRA commander makes contact with community near Kafia Kingi
LRA groups have been active in CAR’s Haute Kotto prefecture since 2010, committing 45 attacks and abducting 195 civilians there in 2016 alone. LRA attacks in Haute Kotto have often served as an indicator that senior LRA leaders are operating in the neighboring Kafia Kingi enclave on the border of Sudan and South Sudan. Since 2010, Kony and other senior LRA leaders operating in Kafia Kingi have frequently dispatched fighters to Haute Kotto to loot food, gold, and diamonds.

Only four LRA attacks were recorded in Haute Kotto in the first six months of 2017, raising questions about whether Kony and other senior LRA commanders had left the Kafia Kingi area. However, the presence of Aligac’s group in Kotto 3 on July 5 indicates that senior LRA leaders are still active in the area. Community leaders from the Kotto 3 area reported that Aligac requested food and information about how his group could defect, and then later left the community. LRA fighters then attacked Kotto 3 on July 17, though it is unclear if the attack was launched on orders from Aligac or another LRA officer. Aligac’s actions—requesting food from a community, expressing interest in defecting, and then disappearing—are similar to tactics used by LRA officer Otto Ladere near the town of Nzako in late 2013, which sparked misperceptions that Kony was in “surrender talks” with former Central African president Michel Djotodia.

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Armed group attacks, intercommunal violence continues throughout eastern CAR
Ex-Seleka factions, anti-balaka groups, and armed Peuhl civilians continued to target civilians in eastern CAR in July, maintaining a trend of elevated violence that began in March 2017. In early July, ex-Seleka and anti-balaka fighters clashed in Bria, vying for control over the city. From July 21–25, presumed anti-balaka fighters killed three Moroccan soldiers from the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) in Bangassou, bringing the total number of peacekeepers killed in the east in 2017 to 11.

In Haut Mbomou, where intercommunal tensions escalated more recently than in Haute Kotto and Mbomou, several incidents highlighted the danger armed groups pose to vulnerable populations, particularly women and children. Armed men attacked a hospital in Zemio on July 11, firing their weapons and killing a baby girl. Three days later, five Peuhl civilians, including two women and a young girl, were found murdered near Obo. On July 18, armed Peuhl men shot at two women near Zemio, wounding one in the chest.

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LRA attacks continue near Garamba following Kony’s orders to poach elephants
Two recent LRA defectors reported that, in May 2017, Joseph Kony gave orders to an LRA group led by Owila and Ladere to return to Garamba National Park to poach elephants and collect ivory. Soon after, LRA attacks near the park spiked for the first time in nearly ten months. In May and June 2017, LRA groups abducted 28 people in communities within 50 km of the park and its surrounding protected conservation areas, followed by 13 abductions in July. A majority of these attacks were aimed at looting food and other supplies. On June 18, an LRA group also looted diamonds and gold from an artisanal mining camp south of the park.

The recent elevated level of LRA attacks on communities near Garamba during an LRA poaching mission repeats similar patterns seen in the area in 2014 and 2015, highlighting the intersection of human and wildlife security in northeastern DRC. LRA attacks in neighboring Bas Uele province, such as the July 5 LRA raid near Banda, are also often indicators of LRA movements between Garamba and eastern CAR.

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Programmatic updates
Following clashes between armed men from the Peuhl community and Central African armed forces (FACA) on June 26, the population of Mboki, CAR, fled towards Obo, where they found refuge near the Catholic church in the center of town. To assist the newly displaced population, the Invisible Children team in Obo compiled emergency care packages, offering food and sleeping mats to families affected by the displacement. There are reportedly 3,800 internally displaced persons currently in Obo.

In DRC, the Invisible Children team supported the training of a Local Protection Committee in Ngilima, which lies in the area east of Garamba National Park recently targeted by LRA violence. The newly elected Committee was trained on how to securely participate in the HF radio early warning system (EWS), the role community leaders can play to encourage defections from the LRA, and the role of the EWS in reducing the threat of armed groups to civilians and wildlife.

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