Church and civic representatives from four key African countries have signed a declaration appealing for international action to stop guerrilla forces terrorizing the region.
About 30 community leaders made up of senior clergy and government representatives put their signature to a communiqué calling on national and international leaders to do more to prevent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
The declaration calls on the countries’ governments to work together to quell the LRA threat, demanding that further pressure on the four nations be applied by the EU, the US and the UN.
Further articles outlined in the document include an appeal for more humanitarian support to help refugees and displaced people and there is a plea for a resumption of peace talks to bring the LRA threat to an end.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, who organized the conference, stressed the continuing threat posed by the LRA.
Speaking Tuesday, September 14th, at the end of the four-day meeting, Bishop Hiiboro underlined the need for international pressure to step up security in the region.
He told ACN, “We have been forgotten by our own government, forgotten by the international community and this means the LRA think they can do anything they like.”
“Think of the number of people who have fled their homes, the number of people who have lost their lives and the number of people left as orphans.”
“The whole state [of Western Equatoria] is living in panic – not just in South Sudan but in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. It is just too much.”
Bishop Hiiboro said a reminder of the LRA threat came just days before the conference got underway last week when eight people were hacked to death by machetes.
A further 14 were badly wounded, some seriously, during the attack which took place in Yambio, the regional capital of Western Equatoria State where the bishop is based and where the conference was held.
Stressing the gruesome violence typical of LRA attacks, Bishop Hiiboro said, “The impact of the LRA is terrible. There are huge numbers of refugees and displaced people trying to escape attack.”
“They destroy property, leave children as orphans and, with so many leaving, there are no schools or social services.”
But, underlining the limitations of a military response to the LRA threat, he said, “We have seen what happens by following the military way.”
“People continue to suffer and die. We want to say that we need another option – an option for peaceful dialogue.”
A year ago, the remains of six people were discovered nailed to a tree close to Yambio in an atrocity that was likened to a crucifixion scene. Again the LRA was implicated.
Amid widespread reports pointing to LRA collusion with Sudan President Omar al Bashir’s Islamist regime in the capital, Khartoum, Bishop Hiiboro said it was unclear who was backing the insurgents.
He added, “There are people who give them weapons, food and enable them to have telephone communications.”
“It is difficult to say who helps them. It is obvious that they receive significant support because they are so very well equipped.”
The LRA issue is expected to have a major bearing on the outcome of the long-awaited referendum on the possible cessation of South Sudan, due in January.
At a time of continuing fear of attacks, reports have shown that voters are likely to be swayed by the government – be it the semi-autonomous administration in the south or the Khartoum-based government of national unity – best placed to bring the LRA threat to an end.