ISLAMISTS WARN FRANCE AGAINST MILITARY ROLE IN SOMALIA
With al-Shabaab extremists threatening to try a captured French security advisor in Somalia under their version of Islamic law, the radical Islamist movement appears ready to provoke a French military intervention. The man is one of two Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) agents abducted in a July 14 raid on a Mogadishu hotel (see Terrorism Monitor, July 30). The other agent claims to have escaped his captors on August 26.
Shaykh Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, chairman of the Islamic Council of Amal (Hope), a former leading member of the ICU and al-Shabaab, condemned France’s military and security support for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) on August 29, adding that any other French officials coming to Somalia will be kidnapped (Daily Nation [Kampala], August 31). On August 28, an al-Shabaab official announced that the remaining French hostage would be sentenced for spying under Islamic law. Two days later Shaykh Bilal told Iranian TV that al-Shabaab was ready to execute their prisoner (Press TV, August 30).
The agent who escaped, identified as Marc Aubrière (probably not his real name), provided a dramatic but highly improbable account of navigating his way by the stars to Mogadishu’s Presidential Palace after escaping his Hizb al-Islam captors and evading armed gunmen shooting at him for five hours in Shabaab-controlled neighborhoods (Shabelle Media Network, August 26; Somaliland Times, August 29). More likely are reports circulating in Mogadishu that Aubrière was released after the French government agreed to a ransom. The second DGSE agent is being held by al-Shabaab, which has assured reporters that the man is heavily guarded and unlikely to escape (AFP, August 28).
A senior al-Shabaab official described the agent’s tale as absurd and accused the movement’s Hizb al-Islam allies of accepting money for the agent’s release. “Even if he escaped, how was it possible for him to walk all the way to the presidential palace without being noticed by the mujahideen?" (Hillaac, August 26). Al-Shabaab may feel it necessary to deal harshly with the French prisoner to preserve its image in light of their Islamist ally’s alleged perfidy in releasing their prisoner in exchange for a ransom (as is widely believed in Mogadishu).
150 of an expected 500 TFG soldiers are now in Djibouti receiving military training from the 5e Régiment Interarmes d’Outre-Mer (5e RIAOM), a mixed-arms Marine regiment permanently stationed in Africa. There are reports that some of the TFG recruits were returned to Somalia for being too young (Libération, August 28). The government of Djibouti has also announced its readiness to send an estimated 500 soldiers with French assistance to Somalia to join the badly undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping force (Garowe Online, September 2).
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated France will not be deterred by hostage-takings. “We will mobilize to support Africa faced with the growing threat from al-Qaeda, whether in the Sahel or in Somalia… France will not let al-Qaeda set up a sanctuary on our doorstep in Africa. That message, too, must be clearly heard” (AFP, August 27).
SOUTH SUDANESE MILITARY VOWS TO DESTROY THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY
After being accused of inactivity by residents of Western Equatoria and various humanitarian NGOs, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) will commit additional troops including its Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army threat to South Sudan. The northern Ugandan group was formed in 1987 and claims to seek the establishment of a Ugandan government based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments (see Terrorism Monitor, April 16, 2008). The movement, led by Joseph Kony, has employed remarkable levels of violence and cruelty in its pursuit of these aims. Since being driven from Uganda it has spread out over South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The LRA, once intended to represent Acholi interests in northern Uganda, now appears to have lost the last vestiges of ideological purpose, carrying out atrocities without provocation in several African states but no longer operating in Uganda. Despite determined efforts by Uganda and its regional partners to resolve the conflict, LRA leader Joseph Kony has backed away from every effort to negotiate a settlement.
At present, the 8th Brigade of the SPLA’s 2nd Division (about 3,000 troops) is hunting the Ugandan rebels in platoon-strength units meant to intercept LRA groups of 5 to 10 people over wide swathes of bush country. According to SPLA spokesman Major General Kuol Deim Kuol, the LRA “come to attack the people and take the food and escape back to hide inside the forest in the DRC, like rats… we are seriously planning to track them down and attack them inside their den in the Garamba forests where they run to” (Sudan Radio Service, September 3).
The SPLA is responsible for security in South Sudan under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Khartoum. The Khartoum regime’s former sponsorship of the LRA as a counter to Uganda’s sponsorship of the SPLA during the civil war (1983-2005) has created suspicion in some Southerners that the ruling Islamist National Congress Party (NCP) continues to use the LRA to spread insecurity in the South as the region nears a crucial 2011 referendum on independence. SPLA Major General Kuol Deim Kuol is among them. “We [the SPLA] are saying that the NCP is still keeping up their old good relationship with the LRA. As you know, Joseph Kony [the LRA leader] is the NCP’s darling; he was residing here in Juba [capital of Equatoria Province] until the SPLA came to Juba in 2005 – all this time Kony was staying here with the NCP." The rebel movement suspended all peace talks in Juba on September 4 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4).
Following the revision of AMISOM’s mandate in Somalia, which changed from “peacekeeping” to “peace-enforcement” in early September to allow it to engage in combat against insurgent forces, the United Nations is considering a similar revision to the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo (MONUC), which would allow it to join the military campaign against the LRA (Garowe Online [Puntland], September 2; New Vision [Kampala], August 27). Changes to the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) are also being contemplated.
The fighting in Western Equatoria is particularly brutal – reportedly short on ammunition, the LRA continues to practice mutilations and amputations with weapons such as machetes to terrify helpless civilians. Local militias that formed to fend off the LRA marauders have also taken to mutilating LRA prisoners in revenge and to dissuade their comrades from returning (Sudan Tribune, March 6). Known as the “Arrow Boys,” the militias use traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, machetes and clubs to defend their homes from the LRA (Sudan Tribune, January 14, 2008).
The operation against the LRA has now been extended to the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) (The Monitor [Kampala], September 8). According to a UPDF spokesman, the CAR invited the Ugandans to pursue LRA units in the CAR, where the administration controls little of the country outside the capital of Bangui (New Vision [Kampala], September 7). Kony led nearly 200 followers into the southeastern CAR in February 2008, forming a base at Gbassiguri for forays into South Sudan.
A bipartisan bill, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate in May, would require the Obama administration to act on the elimination of the LRA threat and the apprehension or removal of Joseph Kony and his top commanders. Over 50 UPDF officers arrived in Djibouti on September 8 to receive advanced training from the U.S. military (Monitor [Kampala], September 8). Most of the officers are expected to join Ugandan forces in Somalia after the training, but some might be committed to the two decade-old campaign to destroy the LRA.
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