UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20: Uganda's defense minister proposed that his troops be allowed to enter Congo in pursuit of vicious rebels who were regrouping there and kidnapping, raping and recruiting children.
The Lord's Resistance Army, led by a mystic, Joseph Kony, has been abducting children and forcing them to kill for more than a decade, beginning in northern Uganda where 2 million people have been made homeless by the attacks.
Ugandan Defense Minister Amama Mbabazi told the UN Security Council yesterday he knew the LRA was operating in the Garambe National Park of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan between Juba and Yei, their original base.
''When they left southern Sudan they were really running for their dear lives, but in Garamba National Park they have had time to regroup, rest and recruit afresh,'' he said.
Mbabazi appealed to U.N. peacekeepers in Congo and Sudan to help capture LRA leaders, four of whom, including Kony, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague as war criminals.
He said after an initial engagement with the LRA, UN troops in the Congo stopped pursuing them following the deaths of eight Guatemalan peacekeepers in January.
Mbabazi said his soldiers should be allowed to chase the LRA in the Congo, under the supervision of a UN force. The Ugandan army is currently permitted to pursue the LRA in Sudan, which had originally armed the group.
Security Council diplomats doubted Congo's government would permit Ugandan troops back into the country after years of trying to expel them for exploiting resources and backing rebellions.
Still, Mbabazi said there should be a regional group formed to address the LRA catastrophe. He estimated that the LRA had been reduced from 5,000 to 500 fighters with remnants operating in northern Uganda.
Mbabazi addressed the 15-nation UN body along with Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, which was unusual because Kampala is opposed to putting Uganda on the Security Council's agenda, saying the LRA crisis is an internal problem.
Some diplomats believe the Ugandan army's treatment of civilians in squalid camps in northern Uganda would also come under scrutiny.
Kutesa said his government hoped to produce a long-term development plan for northern Uganda by August in conjunction with a proposed joint monitoring committee that would have UN and other international help.
He also criticised a report last month by non-governmental organizations, grouped in the Civil Society Organizations for Peace in Northern Uganda, for saying three times more people died in the camps each week than per capita estimates in Iraq.
''There is no question that due to the threats from LRA activities the humanitarian situation facing IDPs (internally displaced people) in northern Uganda is unacceptable,'' Kutesa said.
''However it is equally unacceptable that certain international NGOs should seek to exploit the plight of IDPs for self-serving advocacy political and resource mobilization agendas.'' he added.