KAMPALA, July 8 (Reuters) – Ugandan rebels have killed more than 120 people over the last two months and displaced thousands in lawless southern Sudan, religious and rebel leaders said on Thursday.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have waged an 18-year insurgency in northern Uganda, spreading fear across huge swathes of the East African country and forcing some 1.6 million people to flee their homes.
They have been operating from bases in neighbouring southern Sudan, where aid workers say they are also terrorising the local population.
“They have killed at least 122 people here in the last two months,” said Reverend Paul Yugusuk, head of the Anglican church in southern Sudan’s remote archdeaconry of Lomega.
“But it’s hard to establish exactly how many people died because some villagers fled to government controlled areas. The number could be higher,” he told Reuters by telephone.
George Machar, a spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels in the Ugandan capital Kampala said that the LRA had displaced thousands of civilians after an attack on several villages last week.
“The incident happened in a very remote area between Juba, Mangala and Ngala. The LRA have recently relocated there,” he said. “They never had bases in the area before. Our assessment is that they are trying to depopulate the area of civilians to give themselves free passage.”
Charles Kisanga, the secretary general of the Equatoria Defence Force (EDF), one of several rebel groups fighting in southern Sudan, said the LRA attacks in southern Sudan have escalated in the last few months.
“There is no peace in eastern Equatoria. The LRA have brutalised and killed with impunity,” he said.
Southern Sudan is beginning to recover from its own decades-old civil war. Sudanese government officials in the capital Khartoum deny Ugandan military claims that they are supporting the LRA.
But Yugusuk said the rebels, led by self-proclaimed Ugandan mystic and former altar boy Joseph Kony, were operating with the help of the Sudanese authorities.
“They are right there now at the town of Nisitu, close to Juba,” he said. “Kony and his commanders are actually in Juba, but most of his fighters are at Nisitu where they are receiving logistical support from the Sudanese army.”
Last month Yugusuk said LRA rebels killed at least 41 people in an attack on several villages in southern Sudan.
Kampala and Khartoum signed a 2002 accord letting Ugandan troops pursue the rebels into southern Sudan.
But Ugandan army chiefs have said Kony has recently retreated beyond the “red line” marking the northern limits of where Uganda’s army can operate.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Nairobi)