LRA attacks destabilizing Southern Sudan ahead of independence
Community self-defense groups rescue seven abductees since May
(5 July, 2011)–Kampala, Uganda – Attacks against civilians by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels are destabilizing SouthernSudan’s Western Equatoria State as the region heads for independence on July 9, said human rights group Resolve today. A two-week research mission to Western Equatoria by Resolve in June found regional governments not up to the task of protectingcivilians from LRA violence and assisting displaced communities.Local leaders in Western Equatoria have responded proactively, with “Arrow Boy” community self-defense groups rescuing atleast seven people abducted by the LRA since May. Arrow Boy groups are also working with traditional authorities to patrolabandoned rural areas to allow displaced persons to resume farming. But LRA fighters launch raids from neighboringDemocratic Republic of Congo (Congo) and Central African Republic (CAR), highlighting the need for greater regional andinternational efforts to protect civilians, apprehend LRA leaders, and demobilize remaining fighters.“LRA raids on rural villages in Western Equatoria means nearly 100,000 Southern Sudanese will have to celebrate independencedisplaced from their homes,” said Michael Poffenberger, Executive Director of Resolve. “The new Southern Sudanesegovernment and military must do a better job at protecting civilians from the LRA or risk alienating the people of WesternEquatoria post-independence,” added Poffenberger.Southern Sudanese military (SPLA) and UN peacekeeping (UNMIS) forces deployed to Western Equatoria lack the resourcesand motivation to do more than deter LRA attacks on major population centers, while Ugandan military (UPDF) forces havebecome less responsive to LRA incursions there. Widespread suspicion that some Ugandan personnel are exploiting timber inthe region and profiting from their deployments has further strained the UPDF’s relationship with local communities.In the absence of adequate protection, tens of thousands of civilians have fled to town centers for safety. However, humanitarianaccess and aid to displaced persons remains inadequate, forcing some people to return to rural villages despite the risk of LRAattacks. Decreased food production in Western Equatoria, a regional breadbasket, also contributes to food insecurity acrossSouthern Sudan.“Too many people in Western Equatoria are faced with the impossible choice of going hungry in town centers or risking LRAattacks in rural fields,” said Paul Ronan, Director of Advocacy at Resolve, who conducted the research. “Displacement inWestern Equatoria also has a ripple effect, creating more empty stomachs across Southern Sudan.”Local communities are proactively responding to the lack of regional and international responses, most notably in the form of Arrow Boy, or Home Guard, community self-defense groups. Arrow Boys groups have widespread support among traditional,religious, and local government authorities, who credit them with most effectively protecting people from LRA attacks. They areoften the first – and only – responders to LRA incursions, and have rescued seven abductees from LRA fighters in two separateincidents in May and June of this year.Arrow Boys groups are also working with traditional authorities of the Zande people, prevalent in the affected region, to patroldepopulated rural areas and set up “safe centers” where displaced persons can resume cultivation. These initiatives are often adirect response to inadequate humanitarian assistance available in major towns.