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UPDATE: Enough learned that three people were killed in the previously unconfirmed attack today in the town of Mabia in Western Equatoria state. Early reports indicate that all three victims were Sudanese state government officials. It appears their car was ambushed by the LRA en route from Yambio to Tambura.
As killings by the Lord’s Resistance Army continued in Congo (nine people died in April, according to a recent U.N. report), the rebels also targeted areas in South Sudan which had experienced relative stability in the first few months of 2010. Recent LRA attacks in the southern Sudanese state of Western Equatoria, or WES, are causing the local population to relive the nightmares of 2009 when the LRA killed over 200 people in the state.
The most recent LRA attack in South Sudan happened yesterday, on May 16, 2010. A source on the ground told Enough that between 30 and 40 LRA rebels, including women, attacked five miles north of the town of Tambura, close to the borders with the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The LRA group ransacked a medical center, looted food and other items, and abducted seven people. At least two people were released today, one of whom said that the LRA had Arabic speakers among them. (These would have likely been Sudanese from Central Equatoria abducted in the previous five years by the LRA. Some Acholi fighters from northern Uganda also learned to speak Arabic during their stay in Sudan when the LRA was based near Juba, under the protection of the Sudanese Armed Forces, in the early 2000s.)
In a well known LRA tactic, the rebels abducted three people yesterday morning in Namutina, north of Tambura, who were used as guides for the attack near Tambura. After the attack, the LRA fighters divided into two – one group moving north on the road to Wau and another group going east. According to a source on the ground, the LRA group moving east attacked today in Mabia, 17 miles southeast of Tambura. Details of this latest attack remain unclear. A Ugandan army officer told Enough that the Ugandan army in Sudan was not aware of the recent attacks in Namutina, Tambura, and Mabia.
LRA attacks in South Sudan resumed this March – after a few months of relative stability – when an LRA group coming from eastern Congo attacked the refugee camp of Napere, just north of Ezo in Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. Local sources told Enough that during the attack, which took place on the night of March 2 and the early hours of March 3, the LRA killed one person and severely injured another. Napere is home to 3,000 Congolese refugees who escaped LRA attacks northwest of Dungu in Haut Uele province in Congo.
LRA attacks have continued in the last three months. On March 15, 2010, a small LRA group attacked five miles west of Ezo, leaving three dead and two abducted. A local resident told Enough that the fighters were part of a larger LRA group responsible for many attacks. Two weeks later, on March 29, the same group moved further east in WES and attacked the village of Uze, seven miles south of Yambio, abducting six people. The same LRA group abducted eight people in Navago, adjacent to Yambio, according to a U.N. internal report. A recent U.N. report claims that Napere refugee camp was attacked again on April 6, just a month after the first attack.
Attacks in the vicinity of the WES capital of Yambio are surprising because the Ugandan army maintains a large base less than 15 miles north in the town of Nzara. The recent attacks also reveal a potential new strategy of LRA groups, which no longer seem content to launch attacks from Congo and the Central African Republic. Instead, LRA groups are moving inside WES towards the Sudanese state of Western Bahr El Ghazal. It is likely that the LRA group that attacked Mabia today is heading to the Bire Kpatua Forest, between Sudan and Congo, which used to – and might still be – a favorite hangout of the LRA commander Dominic Ongwen and his fighters.
In most of the recent attacks in Sudan, the first to respond have been the Arrow Boys, groups of civilians armed with locally manufactured weapons. In the aftermath of the Navago attack on March 31, for instance, 200 Arrow Boys chased the LRA out of their community and managed to rescue all eight abductees.
The southern Sudanese Army, or SPLA, is still not up to the task of dealing with the LRA and protecting civilians. According to a source on the ground, the SPLA refused to respond to yesterday’s LRA attack. The commander of the SPLA detachment in Tambura reportedly said that SPLA troops were not allowed to move during the night.