SUDAN: Thousands flee food shortages and Ugandan rebel attacks in the south
At least 5,000 people in southern Sudan have fled food shortages and attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and sought refuge in northwestern Uganda since January, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
"[Some] said they were running away from LRA attacks, while the majority have fled their camp of Nimule in southern Sudan to Arua in Uganda due to food shortages, as relief supplies to the camp stopped some time back," UNHCR spokeswoman Roberta Russo, told IRIN on Saturday.
The refugees, she added, were from Torit, Nimule and Yei. They were being registered at the Ugandan border districts of Adjumani, Arua and Moyo, where UNHCR was feeding them.
Ugandan government officials said most of the new arrivals crossed the border in mid-March after the LRA stepped up attacks against civilians. The government and UNHCR were trying to find land on which they could set up homes and begin farming to supplement relief supplies, one official said.
"The rebels attacked [some of them] with machetes and clubs, looted and set grass-thatched huts ablaze and in one such attack, 12 people were killed," an official from the Ugandan prime minister’s office in the capital, Kampala, told IRIN.
According to the official, who had been to Palorinya, a makeshift reception centre in Arua, some of the recent arrivals had wounds sustained during such attacks. Many had walked for 10 to 15 days to reach the Ugandan border and were in poor health. A number of children had died on the way.
In one recent attack, the LRA ambushed Sudanese civilians in Mangala, 60 km northeast of the southern town of Juba. The rebels were later engaged by Sudanese government forces, the official said.
Before the new influx, there were already 160,000 Sudanese refugees living in various settlements in Uganda.
Government officials said they had hoped that with the 9 January signing of a peace agreement between Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, many of the refugees would prepare to go back home.
The agreement ended more than two decades of war in the south.
UNHCR said a few had actually made voluntary visits to southern Sudan to check on the situation and determine whether it was feasible to return home, but had not yet decided when to go home.
The LRA has fought the Uganda government since 1988, waging a brutal campaign that has displaced more than 1.4 million people. The rebels have particularly targeted children, abducting thousands of young boys and girls for recruitment into their ranks or to be turned into "wives" for LRA commanders.
The LRA, which has bases in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, claims it wants to topple the government in Kampala and replace it with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments.
On 10 May, the UN Security Council condemned the LRA atrocities and called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Council president for May, Danish Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Løj, told reporters following a briefing by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland that Council members hoped for a peaceful end to the conflict.
She encouraged the government of Uganda to seek and facilitate such a solution. Members of the Council, she added, condemned atrocities committed by the LRA and called on the rebels to cease all acts of violence and enter into peace negotiations.
The Ugandan army, which is engaged in fighting the LRA inside Sudan, had claimed in recent months that the LRA rebellion had been weakened and that the latest attacks were just a desperate attempt by the group to remain in the limelight. Other sources disagree, saying the rebels are still a force to reckon with.
Religious and local leaders in the region insist the government should hold peace talks with the LRA, but the Ugandan authorities say the military option is the most effective way to defeat the rebels.
Tags: Uganda Sudan Africa