About 1,200 Congolese have sought shelter in southern Sudan in recent days to escape brutal attacks by members of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that have included the abduction of children and the torching of homes, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
The Congolese arrived on foot in the Sudanese villages of Gangura and Sakure after a four-day journey, telling local authorities and aid agencies about savage attacks on six separate villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The refugees said they fled to Sudan because the LRA, which has waged war against Ugandan Government forces for two decades, sometimes from bases in remote areas of the north-eastern DRC, had blocked all other routes out of the region.
“From what we have learned in speaking to the refugees, the attacks were ferocious and unremitting,” said Geoff Wordley, the assistant representative for UNHCR operations in southern Sudan, adding there are unconfirmed reports of bodies seen floating in local rivers.
“Many refugees being treated in the MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] clinic showed wounds from machetes and bullets.”
An emergency assessment team from UNHCR visited Gangura on Saturday, where MSF (Spain) runs a village clinic and has been treating some of the wounded refugees. Most of the arrivals are sleeping in the open at a derelict school, without bedding, cooking utensils or other basic household items, and subsisting on forest fruit.
UNHCR, which is sending a team to the area to support relief efforts, said in a statement that it feared the humanitarian situation cold soon worsen, given the poor living conditions, the diminishing stocks of food and the proximity of the refugees to the volatile border.
UNICEF reported last month that LRA fighters had conducted a series of attacks on villages in DRC’s Orientale province and kidnapped an estimated 90 children from their schools.
Today, in a joint statement with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF urged the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted pupils.
“There are documented cases where children kidnapped by groups in this region have been forced to fight as child soldiers, and where young girls have been raped and used as sex slaves,” according to the statement.
Since the mid-1980s, the LRA has waged war in northern Uganda against Government forces in that country and became notorious for its abduction and use of child soldiers during the conflict. Its fighters have often been based in neighbouring southern Sudan or in north-eastern DRC.
The LRA and Uganda have signed several peace agreements, raising hopes of a comprehensive accord to formally end the entire conflict being signed eventually.