Good morning. I would like to thank ResolveUganda, the Enough Project and Invisible Children for organizing this event and inviting me to speak to you today. I would also like to thank International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and Ugandan Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga for traveling to Washington to participate in this important event.
The U.S. Government welcomes your efforts to shine a spotlight on this extraordinarily difficult issue that has brought so much human suffering. We share your concern about the LRA and the instability and insecurity it has caused. We are also concerned about the lasting impact of LRA atrocities on the continent. We are committed to working with the international community to find a way to end the LRA conflict, rebuild the north, and effectively assist people in need. We are also committed to ensuring that the north is fully integrated in every sense.
For many, many years, we have been actively implementing a broad strategy to support lasting peace and economic stability in the Great Lakes region. A key goal of this strategy includes definitively ending the LRA conflict and rebuilding the north. I would like to take a few moments to discuss our strategy and our efforts to bring peace and stability to the region.
Fighting in northern Uganda between the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army has continued for over 23 years. In an effort to overthrow the Ugandan government, the LRA has abducted more than 22,000 children for use as porters, sex slaves, and child soldiers. The LRA has terrorized innocent civilians in southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and northern Uganda, forcing nearly two million people to live in internally displaced persons camps for protection. Close to 90 percent of the Acholi ethnic group in northern Uganda have been displaced by the war. Unfortunately, the LRA continues to terrorize innocent civilians in the region. We support efforts that will immediately bring to justice those who are responsible for the horrific abuses committed at the hands of the LRA.
The U.S. Government supported peaceful efforts to end the conflict, most notably the Juba Peace Process. Our support expanded USG commitments while advancing our strategy. We helped fund the Office of the U.N. Special Envoy for LRA-Affected areas in Kampala, the five African observers to the talks, the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team, and helped organize public discussions about the Juba process in northern Uganda.
Moreover, our Senior Advisor for Conflict Resolution at the State Department and U.S. diplomats from our Embassy in Kampala and our Consulate in Juba were observers during Final Peace Agreement negotiations. U.S. Government representatives from Washington and our Embassy in Kampala traveled frequently throughout the Great Lakes region to observe and increase support for the peace process. Our Mission in Kampala continues to focus its efforts on northern Uganda issues and speaks daily with the parties and key players.
During the two-year Juba process, we frequently called upon LRA leader Joseph Kony to participate. We also publicly and privately encouraged all involved, including the LRA and Ugandan Government senior officials, to remain committed to finding a lasting solution as soon as possible.
While the Ugandan Government worked hard to develop and support a credible Final Peace Agreement, Kony refused to participate. He used the cease-fire during the peace process to re-organize the LRA, recruit new members through forced child abductions, and replenish his supplies. Despite the international community’s best efforts, the peace process ultimately failed because of Joseph Kony. Kony’s continuing efforts to enslave, and kill civilians – including children – show us he has absolutely no interest in peace and that political reconciliation is not a viable option with Kony. He must be stopped.
Juba Process mediator and Government of Southern Sudan Vice President Riek Machar formally ended the Juba talks on December 1, 2008 after Kony refused six times to sign the peace agreement. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has stated repeatedly that the LRA is not welcome in Garamba Park in north-eastern DRC, and should not expect to stay there indefinitely. Throughout 2008 and while the peace process was under way, LRA attacks resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and the abduction of over 700 children.
In recognition of the futility of seeking a diplomatic solution, and to deny the LRA a safe-haven in the DRC, regional governments launched Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint military operation involving the Ugandan, Congolese, and southern Sudanese militaries on December 14, 2008. The military of the Central African Republic later joined this effort, principally in a defensive posture to prevent LRA elements from entering the Central African Republic. The U.S. Government provided technical planning and non-lethal assistance, and shared information but the U.S. military played no combat role.
We will continue to urge regional militaries and the UN Mission to the Congo, or MONUC, to coordinate to ensure operational success and protect civilians. We will also continue to support international efforts to expand the UN Mission in the DRC’s abilities to protect civilians in the DRC.
Although regional military efforts have not yet captured or killed top LRA leaders, it has had its fair share of success. It has freed abductees and degraded LRA capabilities by eliminating some of the LRA leadership, destroying LRA camps, and seizing LRA equipment, supplies, food and weapons. Operations have also captured LRA combatants, freed abductees, and increased political and military cooperation among participating governments, especially between Uganda and the DRC. Let’s remember, too, that there is international support for the operation, including UN Special Envoy for LRA Affected Areas Joachim Chissano
In response to Operation Lightning Thunder, the LRA launched attacks against Congolese civilians, killing 600 to 900 civilians and displacing over 160,000. We cannot dismiss the tragedy of ongoing brutal LRA attacks on civilians. But escapees, defectors, and civilians in eastern DRC have told us that brutal attacks will increase if military pressure is reduced. The most recent wave of LRA violence is deplorable, but is no different than LRA atrocities in the past. If not stopped, the LRA will continue to destabilize the region and terrorize innocent people.
Cooperation among regional leaders has, and will continue to be, a crucial element of our strategy to end this conflict. Our strategy is focused on improving the Ugandan Government’s ability to coordinate with neighbors to resolve problems, including those that result from armed rebel groups and refugee flows.
As a part of our strategy, we will continue to coordinate closely with our international partners. Through the U.S.facilitated Tripartite-Plus Forum, the Great Lakes Working Group (whose members include the UN, the European Union, France, The United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States), and other mechanisms, we continue to encourage diplomatic and military coordination among Uganda and other African regional governments to improve security and stability. In these groups, we have pledged our lasting commitment to stability and strong neighborly relations among Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is important to note that our strategy is focused on building a democratic and economically successful region to hinder the revival of violent groups like the LRA.
Our focus on stopping Kony and the LRA is only one part of what we are doing. We have an equally strong commitment to the Acholi people and northern development. A sustainable solution requires significant investment, including investment from the Ugandan Government. Let me say that the United States is the only bilateral donor to have a permanent presence in the north, with our U.S. Agency for International Development office in Gulu, northern Uganda. As Uganda’s largest bilateral donor, we provided $163 million in Fiscal Year 2008 for northern reconstruction. And we estimate total donor commitments to the north at $400 to 500 million.
Despite several delays, the Ugandan Government announced it will include the Peace, Recovery, and Development plan, or PRDP, in its official budget fiscal year beginning in July 2009. As a part of our strategy to support northern development, we will continue to work with the Ugandan government and foreign donors to ensure the Ugandan Government commits its share to support the PRDP. We will also continue to urge the Ugandan Government to implement projects critical to the rebuilding of northern Uganda in a timely and efficient matter.
There has been considerable success. Northern Uganda today is a different place than it was only a few years ago. Due to the absence of LRA-related attacks since 2006, up to 80 percent of two million internally displaced people have returned to or near their homes. In the north, homes are being rebuilt, commerce is starting up, security is present, and hope is evident.
Our strategy is also focused on implementing a broader democracy and governance strategy that promotes the respect for human rights. We will continue to support Ugandan Government efforts to demobilize and reintegrate former LRA combatants and enhance governmental capabilities in the north. We will also support the work of international organizations to assist displaced people in southern Sudan and the DRC.
I won’t go over every detail of what we are doing, but let me mention some. We provide funding to international organizations to create shelters to psychologically rehabilitate former ex-combatants. Other U.S. support helps formerly abducted children and combatants enroll in schools and vocational training. Our support has helped fund reception centers for children rescued from the LRA, most of whom suffered horrific abuse while in captivity. These centers also provide psychological rehabilitation to rescued children and facilitate the return of abducted children to their families. During the height of the crisis, we supported many overnight shelters to protect children from being abducted.
For well over a year, we have worked with the Ugandan government and international community to re-establish the rule of law and a civilian judicial system in the north. In the north our strategy has promoted a dialogue of peace and reconciliation throughout northern communities. Part of our support for national reconciliation includes funding nationwide discussions on accountability and reconciliation. We are also providing financial support and working with Ugandan officials and the international community to strengthen the judiciary to allow mid and low ranking LRA rebels to be tried in local courts.
We have also provided funding to assist up to two million Ugandans in internally displaced persons camps. A major focus of our long-term strategy in Uganda is to protect and strengthen support for human rights by providing assistance to LRA victims.
In closing, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to lasting peace in the Great Lakes region, and to development in the north. We look forward to working with the Government of Uganda and the international community as a whole to end Kony’s reign of terror in the region and end this conflict once and for all.