The United Nations refugee agency today spoke out about an increase in the number of attacks in recent weeks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa, leading to the displacement of thousands of people.
The attacks have taken place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, told reporters in Geneva.
She said that since UNHCR’s last update on 6 March, there have been 13 attacks in the DRC, which resulted in two killings and 13 abductions, and the displacement of 1,230 people, mostly from the Dungu territory in the country’s north-east. In CAR, LRA attacks have resumed after a lull since April last year, with 11 attacks recorded this year.
The LRA was formed in the 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels. They then exported their activities to Uganda’s neighbouring countries, with practices that include the recruitment of children, rapes, killing and maiming, and sexual slavery.
“The security situation in south-eastern CAR remains extremely fragile,” Ms. Fleming said, adding that the one exception is the city of Obo, where United States troops were deployed in October to bolster efforts by the joint CAR-Ugandan armed forces to hunt down the LRA and its leadership.
“Our staff on the ground say that patrols around Obo by the two national armies supported by the US military advisers have enabled local authorities to ensure security within a 25-kilometre radius from Obo, compared to five kilometres before patrols were instituted,” Ms. Fleming said. “The extended security is allowing residents to tend their farms.”
The LRA has also conducted attacks in South Sudan, which last year led to 7,382 people fleeing their homes. Although no attacks have been registered this year, UNHCR noted that South Sudan’s Western and Central Equatoria states host more than 22,000 refugees from the DRC and CAR.
According to UNHCR, LRA assaults in these three countries have led to a total of 440,000 internally displaced persons or people living as refugees, of which 335,000 are found in the DRC alone.
Last week, the four countries affected by LRA activities – CAR, DRC, South Sudan and Uganda – announced that they would launch a joint military task force backed by the UN and the African Union to pursue the rebel fighters, including the group’s leader, Joseph Kony.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR welcomed the regional and international initiatives aimed at ending LRA atrocities and urged all actors to respect human rights and minimize risk to civilian populations.