“People thought that the 2005 peace agreement would put an end to war”, says Lexon Wari Amoxai, Western Equatoria Commissioner for Aid and Rehabilitation and former fighter of the Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA). “Everybody is enthusiastic about building the country, developing it. But some, like the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) are against development”, he says. The LRA, which expanded in the context of frustrations among the Acholi of Uganda has quite a strong impact in the Southern part of South Sudan. Over the years, the Ugandan People Defence Force launched various offensives which pushed the LRA out of Uganda and the conflict has been spilling over in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Lexon Wari Amoxai would like Western Equatoria to benefit from the general enthusiasm that prevailed at Independence Day, last July, taking advantage from the end of the grip of Khartoum’s Islamic regime over South Sudan. It is an open secret that President Omar Al Bashir’s government has been supporting LRA rebels against the Southerners. But this is no longer the case, admit the authorities in the new capital, Juba.
Yet, the LRA’s threat remains serious. “Today, the LRA is equipped with modern weapons, uniforms and satellite phones. It is impossible to stay for a long time in the forest which covers the Southern part of South Sudan without some sort of support” explains Eduardo Hilboro, Catholic Bishop of Yambio.
LRA attacks have occurred on a regular basis for several years on the Southern border of South Sudan. They caused a large number of refugees (120,000 in Western Equatoria alone). LRA fighters, known as “tong-tong” (“chop-chop”) in Acholi because of their habit to chop the limbs of their victims, attack at night, shoot on villagers, burn huts, kidnap women and children and kill men with sticks or pangas (matchets). Peasants who manage to escape tend to seek a refuge in the outskirts of larger villages or cities or near main roads, hoping that the presence of the South Sudanese army will deter the rebels from carrying out their murderous activities.
However, all the internal displaced persons (IDPs) we met in different locations of the state are unanimous in condemning the army. “The SPLA is doing nothing to help us. Even, when we run towards them, covered with our own blood, they still don’t move!” testifies an angry peasant. “(The soldiers) came only three days after the attack” other IDPs complained.
How to explain such indifference? “First of all, the SPLA is discouraged to see that those who obtained political jobs are corrupt. And then, since most are Dinka, they lack interest for the local people, who are Zande” answers a pastoral worker.
Bishop Hilboro is even more direct. “Government people are not interested by this problem. They call me the LRA bishop because I speak about it all the time. I tell them: “beware; otherwise you are going to create a Southern South Sudan rebellion! I admit they made an effort by appointing recently four ministers from Western Equatoria in the government, among them the Interior, Foreign Affaires and Finance portfolios”. Yet, the effects of such decision – which show a greater care from the Juba government for Western Equatoria – are not yet visible on the ground. For the time being, for the displaced, the Arrow Boys are the only answer. They are part of a kind of self-defence militia group that has managed to reduce the number of LRA attacks.
One of these Arrow Boys we met in Kapoeta, says: “we were really fed up! How many more times would we have to run away again and again? If we must die, we rather fight! ”. His group includes thirty young men and some older ones. They patrol mainly at night, warn the villagers, they fight with the LRA. “They have Kalashnikov rifles and PKM machine guns. The government promised to help us but it doesn’t” explains one of these Arrow Boys.
Yet, these fighters are not willing to say whether or not they capture weapons from the enemy. “The reason is that they fear that the government might confiscate them”, explains a translator. But a young Arrow Boy shows proudly an old single-shot rifle and a spear In fact, according to the IDPs we met, the “only help” provided to the villagers has come from the Uganda army which has been authorized by the South Sudan government to establish basis on its territory and whose patrol convoys can be seen on the roads of the state.
Bishop Hilboro says that he did not understand why there has not yet been a meeting of the four governments affected by the LRA problem (Uganda, DRC, South Sudan, Central African Republic). The bishop also says he will try to organize a meeting of the bishops of the dioceses which are affected by the problem in the four countries. “But we need help. It is the most important moment for us because we are building a state, a nation and a country. It’s now that one needs to help us!” says the bishop.
Yet, the country faces many more security challenges. On November11, Juba-based Catholic Radio Network (CRN) reported the arrest of a former United Democratic Front leader, Peter Abdelrahman Sule, after a battle with the South Sudanese army, while intending to start a rebellion in the Mundri East County of Western Equatoria. It also remains to be seen what will be the Arrow Boys’ reaction to the government plans to disarm civilians in five states including Western Equatoria, during the dry season. On November 21, during a press conference in Nairobi, SPLA dissident commander and rebel leader George Athor threatened that more violence was likely to happen in Jonglei State after the break of talks with the government authorities.