An Improbable Meeting

On Sunday, the world’s top humanitarian official met one of the world’s worst war criminals in a remote jungle outpost on the Congo-Sudan border. Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator met Joseph Kony, leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, in the depths of the jungle in an effort to promote peace in the devastated region.The two men are a study in contradiction. Egeland, who is resigning in January, has devoted his long diplomatic career to preserving life. Meanwhile, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has spent just as long waging a merciless rebellion in Northern Uganda. The main victims of the LRA are the abducted children who make up the rank and file of the army and serve as sex slaves to their commanders. Those children in northern Ugandan villages who have been lucky enough to avoid the LRA do so by “night commuting” from their villages to relatively safer confines of larger towns and IDP camps. Tens of thousands of children avoid abduction this way.

In October, the International Criminal Court issued its first ever indictment against Kony. And since then, there has been a slow, but positive march toward peace. In August, the LRA and the Government of Uganda signed a ceasefire, which is more or less holding. The ceasefire is being supported by the UN, mainly through the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). According to the Security Council Report, as a result of the cessation of hostilities and the improvement in the humanitarian situation, 300,000 internally displaced persons are reported to have begun returning to northern Uganda.

Still, the cease-fire remains tenuous. Egeland’s meeting was an attempt to secure the release of some abducted children as a sign of good faith and relay messages between the fugitive Kony and the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. And it should be noted that this trip came at great personal risk to the Egeland. Egeland flew to a remote outpost in South Sudan and with a small security team, then drove deep into the jungle to wait for Kony. When Kony arrived, he came with an entourage carrying rifles affixed with bayonets. And according to this Times (UK) report Kony behaved erratically as if he was on drugs.

The Council is expected to consider a Presidential statement on the situation in Uganda in the next few days. The timing is good, for the conflict is closer to resolution than it has ever been. What is needed now is strong international commitment to facilitate a lasting peace.