Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

South Sudan Bids to Fend Off LRA

Troop reinforcements being sent to repel raids by resurgent Ugandan rebels.
By Modest Kizito
South Sudan has ordered more troops to its southwestern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, following recent attacks by the Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.



The attacks in late May have driven nearly 1,000 people from their homes near Yambio, the capital of the Western Equatoria Province, and have sparked accusations that the rebels are getting support from Sudan.



“We have our [sources] in the region, especially in Western Equatoria, who found debris of Sudanese broad beans and dates,” said Dr Anne Itto, deputy secretary-general of the Southern Sector of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, SPLM, party.



Itto explained that the debris was packaging from high-energy foods typically used in desert regions by Sudanese armed forces and that the bags and packets had Arabic letters.



“So, … it must have been air dropped to LRA by Sudan armed forces,” claimed Itto, a former commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, SPLA.



She claimed the LRA was supported by the National Congress Party, NCP, of Sudan president Omar al-Bashir in an effort to destabilise South Sudan.



However, a member of the NCP based in Juba, South Sudan, who refused to be named, denied the accusation, saying that the relationship between the NCP and Ugandan rebels had ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by Sudan and South Sudan leaders.



Meanwhile, residents of the town of Gangura Payam, a community of 3000 about 25 kilometres from Yambio, struggles to cope with occasional attacks by the LRA, said local leader Thomas Gangura Abotoroba.



Following an attack in late May, he said many families were forced to sleep in the bush for three days, “We were in state of fear.”



Abotoroba said the Payam area was being overrun by LRA fighters looking for food and abducting people, possibly for use as fighters.



Abotoroba told IWPR that his home had been surrounded at midnight, but he had also managed to flee into the bush.



“The LRA came in silence and broke into [my] house,” said Levi Enosa, 35, explaining that he was pulled out of his home, beaten and struck on the forehead with a machete.



He was left unconscious and bleeding, and later found and taken to the Yambio hospital by local militia fighters known as the Arrow Boys.



Another victim, Kuri Miidie, 58, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at the Yambio hospital, told IWPR that he had been weeding his garden when the LRA attacked.

When he tried to take cover, he realised he was bleeding from his left wrist. The wrist was operated on and he was recovering.



Two other victims in the Yambio hospital said they had sustained injuries from gunshot wounds caused by the LRA during fighting between the rebels and the Ugandan army in the Central African Republic in recent weeks.



Genekpio Kumboyo, 16, and Lidia Mboribirani, 17, who is four months pregnant, said they had both been shot in the thigh.



The LRA fighting has generated a new wave of Congolese refugees into Western Equatoria, according to officials, estimated to number around 20,000.



While residents wait for South Sudan soldiers to arrive, the communities were being protected by the Arrow Boys militia, comprising 3,000 fighters, armed only with traditional hunting nets, spears, bows and arrows.



South Sudan president Salva Kiir said last week, however, that military reinforcements were on the way. “I will direct the SPLA forces to the state to fight LRA, and I promise I will not let you people down in quest for peace and security,” he said.



Kiir said that the recent fighting in the western region was part of a larger problem that was being instigated by “enemies of peace from within our realm and without”.



Kiir said that the insecurity is part of a well-designed strategy to discredit southerners internationally as people who cannot govern themselves.



Lieutenant-General Oyai Deng Ajak, South Sudan’s chief-of-staff, told IWPR that the government would address the violence in South Sudan.



Despite the assurances from government officials, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, Sima Samar, last week criticised South Sudan for an inadequate response to the LRA threat.



“The LRA has plundered and burnt villages, while committing horrendous abuses, including killings and abductions, with an ineffective response from the SPLA,” Samar said on June 4 in Khartoum after a 10-day tour of South Sudan.



Samar said that leaving the ill-equipped Arrow Boys local militia to protect outlying villages was a poor response to the LRA problem.



“While I recognise the logistical and resource constraints of the police, the SPLA and state governments concerned, the encouragement of self-defense groups is not a substitute for the responsibility of the state to actively police these areas, and deter future attacks to protect civilians,” she said.



The attacks in South Sudan coincide with a spate of LRA violence in northeastern Congo in which the rebels reportedly kidnapped 135 Congolese villagers.



LRA fighters raided the village of Dakwa around 200 km south of Congo's porous border with Central African Republic.



The surge in LRA activity in recent weeks follows a December 14 attack on their camps in the DRC by the Ugandan army together with Congolese and South Sudan forces.



The attack prompted vicious reprisals by the rebels who subsequently killed an estimated 1,000 Congolese civilians. The Ugandan army withdrew in April, leaving a contingent of the Congolese army in the region to deal with the rebels.



LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders were not captured during the Ugandan-led operation, and remain at large despite outstanding warrants for their arrest issued by the International Criminal Court in 2005.



Modest Kizito Oketa is an IWPR-trained journalist.

More IWPR's Global Voices