Fresh attacks carried out by a notorious Ugandan rebel group have uprooted thousands of people and spreading panic in southern Sudan, forcing the United Nations to suspend its humanitarian work in the area, the world body's refugee arm said today.
The 12 August attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Ezo district, in the remote Western Equatoria region near Sudan's border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), reportedly killed two people and injured three others.
The rebels also abducted 10 girls from a local church, and they pillaged and torched homes, stealing food.
The following day, the LRA struck again in Bereamburu village, burning down the local church and health centre, as well as looting medical supplies.
“On 13 August, as a result of the intensifying LRA attacks, the UN was forced to suspend all humanitarian activities in the area, and 29 humanitarian workers, including seven UNHCR staff, were evacuated by helicopter,”Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters today in Geneva.
The recent LRA attacks have triggered widespread panic and fear in the area bordering the DRC and the Central African Republic (CAR), he said. Most of those on the run have already been uprooted by earlier LRA incursions.
“UNCHR condemns the continued LRA attacks on the civilian population and is deeply concerned about the fate of the large number of refugees and IDPs caught in the latest attacks in several villages along the borders of the three countries,” Mr. Mahecic said.
Thousands of refugees from the DRC and the CAR, along with internally displaced Sudanese persons (IDPs) are now without protection or assistance, he added.
Since October 2008, the LRA, which is said to be behind many attacks and atrocities, has “extended its deadly reach into the DRC, Sudan and the CAR, terrorizing the civilian population and causing chaos and mayhem,” the spokesperson said.
Some 360,000 Congolese people have been forced to flee in successive LRA attacks in northeast DRC, while some 20,000 others have fled to Sudan and CAR, according to UN estimates.
In a related development, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it plans to boost its food assistance to southern Sudan this year by 25 per cent due to the surge in the number of people facing severe food shortages to 1.3 million.
Driving the deteriorating food situation are conflict, poor rainfall and high food prices, the agency said.
“We need to act now to assist the increasing number of people facing serious hunger in southern Sudan,” said WFP Sudan Representative Kenro Oshidari.
The agency's move was prompted by the results of the recently-completed mid-year assessment of the region's needs carried out by the Government of Southern Sudan and with the support of WFP and other UN bodies.
Half of WFP's assistance will go to Akobo, an area in Jonglei state that has been hit hard by inter-tribal clashes which have killed hundreds and uprooted thousands of others. Nearly half of the people in Akobo are said to be food insecure, according to the review.
The agency has been airlifting food into Akobo since a mid-June attack on boats ferrying its aid down the Soba River.