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Africa rebel group’s crimes rise, despite US intervention

John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes –

STUTTGART, Germany — Attacks and abductions by the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa doubled in the first six months of 2012 compared with the previous six months, despite the deployment of U.S. special operations forces to support African forces tracking the rebels.

The data, compiled by the LRA Crisis Tracker project, were released as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours Africa. In Uganda, she was expected to discuss regional security and efforts against the LRA.

“The resurgence of LRA violence in the first six months of the year clearly demonstrates that too little is being done on the ground to protect civilians and stop senior LRA commanders,” said Michael Poffenberger, executive director at the Washington-based Resolve group, which advocates for action against the LRA.

From January to June, the LRA was responsible for 190 attacks, 38 killings and 311 abductions, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, a real-time mapping program that charts the rebel group’s movements by compiling data from various sources.

Activists with Resolve said they hope Clinton’s visit will help bolster regional efforts to counter the rebel group, which has brought instability to swaths of central Africa for two decades.

The U.S. is preparing to send more than $22 million in LRA-focused military aid to Uganda, a key player in the regional hunt for the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony, according to an Associated Press report.

Still, with many other security challenges in the greater region, African forces are balancing the LRA threat against other concerns. In the case of Uganda, troops routinely deploy to neighboring Somalia as part of an African Union force working against the insurgent group Al-Shabab. The U.S. also is providing millions of dollars in aid and training support for that effort.

The LRA, a rebel group that at one time was focused on overthrowing the Ugandan government, is no longer viewed as a threat to any government. Today, experts say, the group has shrunk to a few hundred fighters, who rove remote parts of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the first half of 2012, LRA forces were most active in northeastern Congo’s Haut Uele and Bas Uele districts, where they reportedly committed 155 attacks and abducted 222 people, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker.

Until recently, the US-trained 391st battalion of the Congolese military was providing support for counter-LRA efforts, but has since been redeployed to North Kivu province in response to a separate rebellion.

“The removal of trained forces deals a huge blow to civilian protection in the region,” said Adam Finck, director of programs at Invisible Children, an anti-LRA advocacy group. “Communities are left exposed and largely unprotected from increasing LRA attacks.”

In September, Invisible Children and Resolve launched the LRA Crisis Tracker with the hopes of raising awareness about LRA assaults. A month later, the U.S. deployed about 100 special operations troops to help train African forces to hunt down members of the rebel group.

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