Filmmaker: Callum McRae

The forthcoming referendum in southern Sudan will bear witness to the birth of a nation, as it is widely expected to confirm the already proliferated idea of the southerners wanting to secede from the North once and for all.

With a nation of their own, ostensibly to be called South Sudan, it is hoped that decades of hostility and animosity will be swept under the rug, putting an end to a continuous state of aggression that has witnessed two civil wars and seen millions of casualties inflicted.
Although some analysts are still concerned of future disputes over borders, oil and mineral resources, a looming menace could spell trouble for the fledgling nation.

The South faces a real threat posed by the 'Lord's Resistance Army' and its notorious leader, Joseph Kony, who is also wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Currently scattered over four countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan - the LRA originated as a rebel force in Uganda but continues to cause havoc and terror across the region. In the Congo alone there have been nearly 200 separate attacks in the last year resulting in over 1,000 people killed or abducted.

The LRA are currently listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, and new legislations spearheaded by Barack Obama, the US president, calls for a specific strategy of disarming them.

But Kony has no intention of disbanding or surrendering, and many analysts are left baffled at the motivations and goals of the LRA. Travelling on foot, Kony and the LRA could be anywhere between four different countries.

As a local headmaster in the Congo put it, "We don't know what their objectives are. What they want, what they don't want."

'In the same bed'

In the beginning, the LRA was a militia formed to defend the Acholi people against the Ugandan government, but soon their motivations and their brutal tactics spiraled out of control.

But in the nineties Uganda's neighbour Sudan started funding and training the LRA – using them as a proxy to fight against both Uganda and the Sudanese rebels in the South.

"When Sudan became the major sponsor of the LRA the LRA transformed from being a popular movement fighting for the legitimate concerns of the people of northern Uganda and it became a mercenary force. That disarticulated it from the concerns of the people of Northern Uganda. The moment it lost that support it meant that its survival would depend on the patronage of Khartoum," Andrew Mwenda, one of the most astute observers of the Ugandan political scene, says.

In 2005, John Garang, the leader of the southern rebels the SPLA, and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir ended the 20-year war between the Khartoum government of Sudan and the rebels. Subsequently Khartoum effectively dropped its support for the LRA.

But the fear in the region now is that this brutal rebel army, consisting largely of abducted children and young people – could once again link up with the Sudanese government in Khartoum.

After the recent WikiLeaks cables went global, it has been revealed that those in the region - including the US - believe that Sudan is behind at least partial funding of the LRA, and this leads to questions on whether or not they intend to use the LRA as arms-for-hire to destabilise its new neighbour to the south.

"The LRA and the Khartoum government they have been in the same bed. Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court – and the president of Khartoum, al-Bashir, has also been indicted. What do you expect? People who have been in the same bed  - and they are now being taken to ICC the two of them - they can go back to the same bed," Matin Ojul, the head of the LRA's peace talks delegation, says.

South Sudan will have to put some faith into the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF), an army on a search-and-destroy mission hunting through even the Congo looking for the LRA.

Although they have been criticised for not doing enough, many of the locals are relieved that at least something is being done. Unfortunately, there are also allegations that the UPDF itself has been involved in acts of brutality and corruption, but support for them seems to be genuinely encouraging.

Even as the UPDF continue their search for Kony and the LRA - whose numbers are estimated to be approximately 500 in strength - the world still has their eyes fixed on South Sudan and the results of the upcoming referendum, because what happens next will have a direct impact on the future of the entire region.

The LRA and Sudan can be seen from Wednesday, January 5, at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 0630, 1230; Thursday: 0300, 1930; Friday: 0830, 1630; Saturday: 2030; Sunday: 0730.

Source: Al Jazeera