Western Equatoria, Sudan — Recent accounts of the latest Lord’s Resistance Army attacks in South Sudan suggest that the rebel group has grown in numbers and is in possession of new and ample ammunition.
An alleged LRA attack took place on Tuesday, October 13 directed at a small Ugandan army base in Bariguna, near the border with the Central African Republic, or CAR. Various sources from the local population and at least one U.N worker verbally confirmed the attack.
This would not be the first time that the LRA has attacked Bariguna. In June, LRA rebels abducted 20 people and looted food there, according to a report by the U.N. coordination agency.
But the attack last week was markedly different from recent LRA attacks in South Sudan, according to Enough’s sources. The rebels reportedly appeared more numerous, emboldened, and in possession of ammunition – in stark contrast to previous attacks where the rebels were few in number and had few or no bullets.
According to Sudanese sources the LRA attackers numbered in the hundreds, which is in line with recent LRA sightings around Ezo and Tambura mentioned in various U.N. security reports. At least five civilians were supposedly killed in the crossfire between LRA and Ugandan forces which took place during the morning and early afternoon hours. Previous attacks have mostly taken place at night.
A local state official told Enough that the LRA have stepped up attacks recently in Western Equatoria State. The goal for such attacks, he reasoned, is to stop or delay an anticipated deployment of Ugandan soldiers from South Sudan into CAR, where the war against the LRA high command has shifted.
A high-ranking Ugandan army official in Sudan denied that the attack on the base took place. He claimed that the local population is inventing rumors, afraid that a shift of Ugandan forces into CAR will leave them exposed to future LRA attacks. The Ugandan army, however, does not usually report on LRA attacks against its personnel.
There is no mention in official U.N. reports of an attack against Ugandan forces in Bariguna.
Recent U.N. security reports confirm an increased number of LRA attacks which, unlike in the past, have been more ferocious and directed at Ugandan forces. On October 10, for instance, there were confirmed skirmishes between LRA rebels and UPDF soldiers in Namutina, Nagero County. One UPDF soldier was killed while no LRA casualties were reported. A joint report by U.N. agencies referring to recent attacks states, “A worrisome trend is that after encounters with the LRA, there seems to be casualties on the side of UPDF [the Ugandan People’s Defence Force] and SPLA [the Southern People’s Liberation Army] without any on the side of the LRA.”
Whether the attack in Bariguna took place or not, it is undeniable that LRA attacks in southern Sudan have increased in the last two weeks. It is increasingly apparent that LRA actions are more strategic and have a clear purpose – to keep the UPDF engaged on multiple fronts: in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (where increased attacks have also been reported), and CAR, where LRA leader Joseph Kony is thought to be at the moment.
The organized attack and seemingly strategic decision-making on the part of the LRA raise concerns about a potentially reorganized and restocked rebel army – a disturbing prospect for many.