JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan is welcoming U.S. military assistance to help fight Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) accused of murder, rape and kidnapping children, officials said on Friday.
Last week, President Barack Obama said the U.S. was sending 100 military advisors to central Africa to help battling the LRA operating in Uganda and lawless parts of South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a letter to Congress, Obama said the first troops had already arrived in Uganda and would be deployed to South Sudan, the CAR and Democratic Republic of Congo subject to their approval.
On Friday, newly independent South Sudan welcomed the U.S. military cooperation with its army, known as SPLA, to help hunt down LRA leader Joseph Kony.
“It is agreed. There was a high military delegation prior to that announcement which discussed all the details of it together with the SPLA,” Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told Reuters.
“It is logistical help, a capacity training programme and support for all the four countries to contain the LRA. It will start immediately because people have already agreed on that,” he said, without giving further details.
SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said: “There are already coordinated mechanisms that have been combating LRA so the new LRA advisory will be an addition.”
“Their most important role is the provision of air surveillance and information,” he said of the U.S. assistance.
The LRA, which says it is a religious group, emerged in northern Uganda in the 1990s and is believed to have killed, kidnapped and mutilated tens of thousands of people.
LRA leader Kony has been indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
LRA commanders have been operating in the wild and largely lawless border regions of the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan in recent years.
Although now thought to number just a few hundred fighters, the LRA’s mobility and the difficulties of the terrain have made it difficult to tackle. Attempts to negotiate peace failed in 2008 after Kony refused to sign a deal to end the killing.