KAMPALA, 20 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - Uganda sought approval on Thursday from the Democratic Republic of Congo to redeploy troops into eastern Congo to hunt members of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) who entered the country in September, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa said.
"The LRA is a terrorist organisation, which has been operating out of Sudan for the last 10 years, now they are moving into DRC, which brings a new dynamic," Kutesa said in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, when he opened a security conference for Africa's Great Lakes region.
Government officials from Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda attended the conference, code-named the Tripartite Plus Joint Commission.
"We should coordinate first and then operate jointly because of our accumulated knowledge and experience with the LRA," Kutesa said. "Without our involvement, this problem will not be solved."
Close to 400 LRA rebels fleeing a Ugandan army drive had crossed into DRC Garamba National Park, from southwestern Sudan in September. However, after complaints by Uganda the Congolese army launched an offensive to drive out the rebels who then crossed back into Sudan.
Notwithstanding that, reports have surfaced that some of the LRA had returned into northeastern DRC.
Uganda's request to redeploy troops follows an agreement reached on Tuesday by the Congolese and Ugandan military chiefs of staff to deploy immediately a joint team to verify the location of the LRA in eastern Congo.
The two chiefs, Lt-Gen Aronda Nyakairima of Uganda and Lt-Gen Kisempa Sungilanga Lombe of the DRC, also agreed that information gathered by the joint verification team would be shared by their respective operational headquarters at Yei in Sudan and at Aba in Congo's northeastern province of Orientale.
The Yei operational centre comprises Ugandan and Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) commanders while that in Aba is fielded by Congolese and MONUC officers.
The LRA, which has waged a 19-year war against the government of Uganda, operates from bases in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, and frequently targets southern Sudanese civilians. The government of Sudan, the southern SPLA and the Ugandan army recently launched a joint operation to flush out the Ugandan rebels from Sudan.
A senior Ugandan military official at the Kampala meeting, who requested anonymity, said the Ugandan army was best-suited drive the LRA out of its Congolese hideout.
"The DRC says it has no capacity to face them. MONUC says it has no mandate, then who will do it?
"That is why we are asking for joint operations, sharing of information and reconnaissance, with MONUC as observers so that they don't say that we are there to loot," he added.
Kutesa said Uganda wanted MONUC's mandate renewed to enable it to use force to disarm "negative forces" in the DRC.
"The voluntary approach [to disarmament] has not worked and in any case it is not what the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement called for. It called for forceful disarmament," he added.
Concerning claims that "Ugandan elements" were involved in the proliferation of arms in Congo's Ituri District, the military chiefs of staff urged MONUC to provide adequate air and naval assets to monitor arms trafficking across Lake Albert, which borders the DRC and Uganda.
They also called on DRC, Uganda and MONUC to block the suspected border routes and provide a list of these at the next meeting of intelligence chiefs due in Butembo, DRC, so that the military chiefs of staff could provide control mechanisms.
In their final communiqué, DRC military chief reassured Uganda that the Congolese army would also expel the remnants of the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda rebels in the Congo.