Fliers provide information on how to leave the group safely and gave instructions on where to go for protection and support.
Late last month in the forests of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, a 23-year-old man approached a United Nations peacekeeping patrol on operations near the Garamba National Park. Armed with an old rifle and just seven bullets, he was fleeing the Lord’s Resistance Army, a ruthless rebel group that had abducted him from his family in Uganda at the age of eight and forced him to fight with them from that time on.
He had been emboldened to flee by a flier he was carrying, distributed in the area by Invisible Children, a nongovernmental organization working to raise awareness of the LRA and to end its abductions and depredations. The flier provided information on how to leave the group safely and gave instructions on where to go for protection and support. He told UN advisors that many of his fellow fighters also want to flee, but they fear the consequences if they are caught.
Once a large movement of more than 10,000 fighters, the LRA is now believed to number only about 250. Led by men wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and atrocities, the remaining rebels are scattered throughout Central Africa in small groups that have little or no contact with the outside world; a relative handful of poorly-equipped raiders looting small villages and farms to survive. In the DRC’s Orientale Province alone, LRA attacks have dropped significantly over the last year due to the group’s weakened state.
In partnership with NGOs like Invisible Children, the African Union Regional Task Force, Uganda People’s Defense Force, regional UN missions and United States military advisors continue to work on programs that encourage LRA fighters to defect.
Fliers are dropped into the forests from aircraft, and messages are broadcast over FM and shortwave radio and even by loudspeaker from helicopters. This humanitarian approach to removing the LRA threat preserves the lives of those who may have been abducted as children and forcefully inducted into the group. These efforts have contributed to the return and repatriation of over 100 LRA leaders, fighters and dependents over the past year.