OCTOBER 8, 2009: Armed Groups In The Great Lakes Region

Cleaning Out The Closet: Armed Groups In The Great Lakes Region

SOURCE: Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

By Jamila El Abdellaoui, Senior Researcher, Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Addis Ababa Office

The presence of so-called ‘negative forces’ in the Great Lakes Region, especially eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has long been recognised by major stakeholders such as the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the United Nations, as one of the major impediments to stability in the region. Currently, with several ongoing military operations in eastern DRC, the use of force to deal with these ‘negative forces’ is considered the most fruitful option. Even in the case of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which took part in a protracted peace process with the Government of Uganda (GoU), facilitated by southern Sudan, a military solution is favoured to either neutralise the movement or push it to sign an agreement. This includes Ugandan forces currently hunting down the movement’s remnants in the Central African Republic.

In light of the numerous ongoing military offensives, it is noteworthy that the GoU is participating in a mediation effort by MONUC to repatriate a less well-known armed group with Ugandan origins, namely the Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU). The ADF/NALU is a coalition of two armed movements. The ADF is often referred to as a Muslim rebel movement, said to have its origins in the Tabliqi Jamaat movement of Uganda, a local version of the larger Indian/Pakistani Tabliq movement created in the 1920s. In the early 1990s, members of this group opposed the appointment of a national mufti, allegedly resulting in the political persecution of Ugandan Tabliqis. This is said to have contributed to the Tabliqis’ sense of marginalisation by the GoU. Subsequently, many Tabliqis moved to western Uganda and with alleged support from the Sudanese government, it started attacking the GoU. However, it lacked popular support and it was unclear what its ultimate objectives were. Following an offensive by the Ugandan army in 1995, the group relocated to eastern DRC, Zaire at the time. At this point a catholic convert, Jamil Mukulu, founded the ADF, supposedly supported by ex-commanders in former President Idi Amin’s army. Mukulu has often been linked to Osama bin Laden, a result of his stay in Sudan in the 1990s.

The ADF soon after formed a coalition force with NALU, which was created in the late 1980s in western Uganda. NALU’s creation, like that of other armed groups in the area, is explained by tensions within the local kingdoms in western Uganda as well as opposition to the central government. NALU specifically was founded by a supporter of former President Milton Obote. Mobutu allegedly joined the Sudanese in supporting the coalition force, which launched its first serious attack against the GoU in 1996, now specifying that its aim is to overthrow the GoU. Even following Mobutu’s downfall, ADF/NALU, at this point made up of approximately 4,500 well-trained combatants, continued its armed opposition, resulting in the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of some 150,000 by 2001. In the same year, the ADF was added to the Terrorist Exclusion List of the US government.

Subsequent military operations by the GoU against the coalition force seriously diminished its military capacity. In 2005, following the failure of the remaining ADF/NALU combatants to respond to an amnesty offer by the GoU, MONUC teamed up with the Congolese army to undertake a joint military offensive against the coalition force. This further weakened the coalition but its command structure remained largely intact, although MONUC indicated at this point that it no longer considered ADF/NALU as a viable military force.

Years of uncertainty on the future moves of the coalition force ensued until reports emerged towards the end of 2007 that the ADF was seeking peace talks with the GoU. These calls were intensified following an apparent delay in a response by the GoU, with Mukulu threatening to resume fighting in January 2009. Soon after, it was reported that ADF had requested former Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj – who was only recently acquitted of charges of ethnic cleansing by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia - to mediate between the GoU and ADF. Although the GoU reportedly accepted Haradinaj as peacemaker, MONUC eventually concretised a negotiation process between the two parties, including NALU.

A first round of talks was held under the auspices of MONUC in early August 2009 in Kisangani, during which presentations were made on the Ugandan amnesty law that continues to apply to those willing to lay down arms. For its part, ADF/NALU presented a list of initial demands with regards to its force, estimated to presently consist of 1,300 fighters, 60% of which are said to be Congolese. A second meeting was held at the end of August. This time the parties agreed to form their negotiation teams whilst ADF/NALU committed to releasing about 30 Ugandan and 30 Congolese combatants by 20 September, which would be facilitated by the Demobilisation, Disarmement, Rehabilitation and Reintigration (DDRRR) sessions of MONUC. Both parties also committed to visiting sites suggested as Transit and Reception Centers. Another meeting would be scheduled shortly to examine the implementation of action points thus far as well as to establish a timeframe for follow-up talks...

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