NOVEMBER 7, 2010: Rebel group sows terror in south Sudan breadbasket

Rebel group sows terror in south Sudan breadbasket

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

By Guillaume Lavallee (AFP)

With its fertile soils and lush vegetation, Western Equatoria ought to be the breadbasket of south Sudan but deadly attacks by Lord's Resistance Army rebels have left many villagers too scared to farm.

Long since driven out of Uganda where they first took up arms two decades ago, the rebels have sown terror across a vast region where the borders of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) meet.

Notorious for kidnapping boys to serve as child soldiers and girls to act as sex slaves, the LRA has carried out 22 attacks in Western Equatoria state this year, driving nearly 45,000 people from their homes, the UN says.

Of those, some 13,000 have sought refuge in camps around Ezo, a remote border village where they are now dependent on international aid.

Displaced farmers attempt to grow what they can in small plots between the makeshift tents but there is only room for a few potatoes and a little manioc.

"There is no space here to farm properly," said Archangel Sindan Tyaza, the deputy chairman of Ezo's displaced persons' committee.

"And if you leave the camp, the LRA are going to kill you."

Camp resident Isaac Dominic, who fled his home village of Maduro after an LRA attack, agreed.

"We used to go out into the fields to tend our crops but now because of the LRA nobody ventures out," he said.

The result of the chronic insecurity in the fields of Western Equatoria has been felt not just in the state but across the whole of south Sudan.

This year the World Food Programme has provided aid to about 4.3 million south Sudanese -- around half the region's population.

"Had there been production in Western Equatoria, we would not have to do that at the scale we did," said the UN humanitarian coordinator for south Sudan, Lise Grande.

"Western Equatoria was the breadbasket of southern Sudan. So if you don't have production there, it not only affects the villagers, but the whole of southern Sudan.

"Southern Sudan chronically has a food deficit. This year in particular it's been simply enormous."

Grande said distributing food aid on such a scale raised concerns of its own as deliveries to particular camps often drew attacks from the rebels who proceeded to ransack the food.

"What's been happening is that when food is distributed to people who have been displaced or the refugees that have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, almost unbearably there is an LRA attack right on the heels of that," she said.

"The LRA knows where the food has been distributed and they attack."

The head of the United Nations humanitarian office, Valerie Amos, who visited Ezo as part of a Sudan tour this week, issued a statement on Sunday calling for better protection for the region's residents.

"The protection of civilians must be at the heart of the planning process of the recently announced joint government initiative for an anti-LRA force," she said.

The governor of West Equatoria, Joseph Bakasoro, announced in late September that the autonomous southern regional government would start arming self-defence groups known as "Arrow Boys" to guard rural communities against LRA attack.

He said the southern parliament had allocated five million Sudanese pounds (two million dollars) to supply them with guns, communication systems and training, as the mainstream armed forces were stretched too thin across the vast jungle region to provide effective protection.

But Amos called for careful supervision of the militia fighters.

"All components of the force, in particular armed community defence groups, should be subject to close government oversight, in collaboration with expert protection partners," she said.

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