Western Equatoria, Sudan – “Tell them about our suffering here,” said the Bishop of Yambio of the Sudanese Episcopal Church. “The LRA is killing, raping and looting in our communities and the world does not know about it,” he added.
Bishop Peter’s words came at the end of a meeting I had with Episcopalian pastors from various Western Equatorian districts in South Sudan. Packed in the All Saints Church in Yambio, the capital of Western Equatoria State, or WES, I heard many hours-worth of testimony from people who had been victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, most of them in the past two months.
The village of Yubu, for instance, which is 4 km away from Yambio, was attacked at the end of September. Many people were abducted, some were released but at least six were killed. The remnants of their bodies were collected only a few days before my visit. These events have become common in WES. A report by the U.N. coordination agency estimated 202 LRA related deaths and 131 abductions in September alone.
LRA attacks on the civilian population have been particularly brutal and frequent in and around Ezo, a town close to Sudan’s border with Congo, where the LRA attackers are coming from. As a result, many people have been internally displaced, moving to areas as far as Yambio – a 7 to 10 day trek on foot – trying to escape the LRA.
The displaced people I spoke to in Yambio described how the LRA had destroyed most of their villages around Ezo in search of food. Stories of killings, rape, and looting are again, all too common. There are at least 1,500 displaced people around Yambio living in squalid conditions without much help. An estimated 25,000 people in WES are displaced and most are thought to have fled LRA attacks.
The number of refugees from Congo and Central African Republic are also on the rise. The refugee camp of Makpandu, 45 km northeast of Yambio town, currently houses over 2,500 refugees, and at least 50 people arrive each week, according to the U.N. refugee agency. At least 3,000 refugees are stuck in Ezo town where food distribution is rare due to LRA attacks, but relocation of these refugees to the Makpandu site is on hold until the security situation improves.
In the meantime, LRA attacks in Western Equatoria continue. On October 7, the LRA attacked the village of Nimba near Yambio town. Two women were mutilated and killed.
The attacks have prompted more displacement, misery, and hunger. Food supplies for the local population and the displaced are dwindling because of the looting and destruction. On Wednesday, Governor Jemma Nunu Kumba of Western Equatoria appealed on Radio Miraya FM for swift humanitarian aid to the people of WES. The governor’s plea echoed the words of the director of the Sudanese Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Committee in our meeting: “We had never had people dying of starvation in Western Equatoria until the LRA came.”