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A practical approach for defeating and suppressing the predatory Lord's Resistance Army has been offered in a report last by the International Crisis Group. It relies neither on the too narrow route of assassination of the LRA's leader, nor on too ambitious hopes of ending the whole cluster of conflicts that are sometimes called the African World War. Instead, there should be an emphasis on guarding civilian populations and on an accommodation of grievances in the region where the LRA originated.

The LRA arose from a religious cult founded in northern Uganda in 1986. It has mutated into a large gang of robbers and terrorists. The government of Uganda drove it out of that country and pursued it into neighbouring states. Though the LRA has got weaker, as it has been diffused by the pressure of the Ugandan army, it has come to prey upon the inhabitants of a larger and larger area. Parts of Congo, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic all suffer from it. The ruthlessness of the Ugandan military has sometimes led to friction with the governments and militaries of those countries.

Recently, the Ugandans have focused on trying to kill the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony, in what is called Operation Lightning Thunder. If they succeed, that would still leave a roving army that lives by plundering villagers.

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Consequently, the United Nations missions in the region and the armies of all the nation-states that suffer from the LRA should concentrate on protecting civilians, a good thing in itself and a way of depriving the LRA of its means of sustenance. Moreover, local self-defence should be encouraged and supported.

The larger context includes the inability of many governments in Africa to control their borders and the insecurity of property claims, especially with respect to the extraction of natural resources. And a civil war in one African country is apt to lead to an invasion of another country by the losing side – the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide being the most extreme and conspicuous example.

These ills cannot be removed by the struggle against any single group such as the LRA.

The International Crisis Group also urges the Ugandan government not to neglect northern Uganda. One cause of the rise of the LRA was regional resentment within the country; even if the LRA disappears, another such insurgency could arise in its place.

These proposals will not be easy to implement, but they get at the core of the specific problem of the Lord's Resistance Army and they should be pursued.

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