Here is a long awaited report from The Daily Telegraph's
Africa correspondent David Blair. I have lost count of the number of times over the past year that I wondered about his lack of reporting on Africa and even worried that he might be ill. So, it was a wonderful surprise for me a few minutes ago to find the following report filed from South Sudan's Western Equatoria! Fingers crossed that he remains in the region to report more on what is really going on. On Monday morning (10 August 2009) I published news at Sudan Watch
about southern Sudan where a humanitarian disaster more serious than that in Darfur, western Sudan is unfolding.
From The Daily Telegraph
Lord's Resistance Army targets children of Sudan
By David Blair in Witto, Western Equatoria province, South Sudan
Published: 7:00AM BST Monday 10 Aug 2009
The Lord's Resistance Army, which specialises in abducting and murdering the young, has turned on a new and pitifully vulnerable target: the children of southern Sudan, one of Africa's most isolated and troubled regions.
Local people call LRA fighters the "ton-tong", meaning "machete", because this is their chosen weapon for murdering victims Photo: GETTY
The LRA, which emerged in neighbouring Uganda and has kidnapped tens of thousands of children during two decades of guerrilla war, is now striking across a vast area of bush and plain along Sudan's south-western frontier.
These raids on defenceless villages, usually mounted by small groups of rebels searching for children to abduct and food to steal, have forced more than 55,000 people to flee their homes. Western Equatoria province has been worst hit, with scores of villages abandoned and new refugee camps springing up.
Local people call LRA fighters the "ton-tong", meaning "machete", because this is their chosen weapon for murdering victims.
Mary Anja, who does not know her age but looks about 30, lived in Diko district until the LRA attacked her village. Knowing that the rebels were hunting for children, local people tried to evacuate as many as possible, along with their mothers, on two tractors.
Mrs Anja gathered her three infant sons and climbed onto one vehicle's trailer. Meanwhile, her daughter, Phoebe, who is about 12, boarded the second tractor.
But this tiny convoy drove straight into an LRA ambush. "The ton-tong fired bullets in the air, then they shot out the tyres of the tractor," said Mrs Anja. "When people tried to jump out, they shot at the people." As the terrified women and children tried to flee, one baby boy, less than a year old, was shot dead in the arms of his mother. Another woman was wounded in the leg, while a Sudanese soldier, who had tried to protect the convoy, died in a hail of bullets.
Mrs Anja managed to flee with her three sons. As she ran, she knew nothing of the fate of Phoebe, travelling on the second tractor. "I was thinking 'Phoebe is not here'. I started crying while I ran," said Mrs Anja.
By this time, Phoebe was already in the hands of the LRA. The guerrillas surrounded her tractor, firing in the air and singling out Phoebe along with five other girls and one boy. "They surrounded us. We couldn't run and then they said 'sit down'. One of the rebels tied us up," said Phoebe.
The captives were led away into the bush. For the next three days, Phoebe was forced to march for 18 hours at a time. "If you don't walk fast enough, you are beaten with sticks," she remembered. "I was thinking, 'I may be killed like those who have been killed by the ton-tong before'. And I asked myself 'what has happened to my mother and my brothers'?"
Phoebe could not have known that her family was safe. They had managed to reach another village, from where Mrs Anja and her sons were brought to a refugee camp at Witto, some 50 miles away.
Shortly before dawn on the fourth day of the march, Phoebe and three other girls managed to slip away as their captors slept. For the next 12 days, they walked through the bush, surviving on river water and wild berries, until they reached the town of Tore Wandi.
Phoebe, emaciated and dehydrated, was taken to hospital, where her mother eventually found her. Today, she has recovered and the family lives in Witto camp, where Oxfam provides sanitation and basic essentials for about 500 refugees.
They cannot understand why they have become the LRA's latest targets. This nihilist movement, which emerged in Northern Uganda more than 20 years ago, has no coherent aim. Its psychotic leader, Joseph Kony, claims to be a prophet and says that he wants to rule Uganda according to the Ten Commandments.
But Kony's rebellion has no purpose save murder, so no-one joins him voluntarily. Hence the LRA must abduct children, who are then brainwashed into becoming soldiers and sent to kidnap more young recruits. In this brutal fashion, the LRA constantly replenishes its ranks.
Uganda has managed to expel the rebels from its territory with a series of offensives. But the LRA has scattered across a new killing ground, covering Sudan's borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
No-one can tell how many children have disappeared in this vast area. Joseph Ngere Paciko, the deputy governor of Western Equatoria, has recorded 250 abductions in his province alone.
"There have also been cases in far-away villages, where we have no access, so the real number is certainly higher," he said. "Our people don't understand why this is happening. Why should the LRA come and kill our people every day?"
Labels: Abductions, David Blair, Diko, South Sudan, Western Equatoria, Witto