Southern Sudan’s efforts to rebuild its agriculture industry following a 21-year civil war is being undermined by Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army ransacking its most fertile farming area, the United Nations said.
The LRA has been able to “completely paralyze the breadbasket of Southern Sudan,” Lise Grande, the UN’s top humanitarian official for Southern Sudan, said in an interview today in Southern Sudan’s capital, Juba. The wider area affected by the LRA raids would produce about half of Southern Sudan’s food under normal market conditions, she said.
“The World Food Programme during the course of 2010 is going to be feeding half the population,” Grande said. “If the breadbasket for the area is paralyzed by these brutal, terroristic attackers, you can see that this one of the major causes of the crisis that we are facing here.”
The LRA in the 1980s began an insurgency in northern Uganda that spread into neighboring countries in 2008 amid an offensive by the Ugandan and Congolese armies. Small groups of the fighters have carried out raids in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and western Southern Sudan.
“Attacks from the LRA seem to be on the increase,” said Sapana Abuyi, deputy governor of Western Equatoria state. “It came at a time when people have cultivated. Those people are pushed away from their villages, forced to leave their village and leave their crops behind.”
Crops including corn, which is the staple grain, sorghum, cassava, sugar cane and coffee are grown in the state.
Under a 2005 peace deal between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Southern Sudan was granted semi-autonomy. Residents will vote in a referendum in January 2011 to decide whether to secede and form a new nation.
Western Equatoria state authorities allege that Khartoum is backing the LRA rebels to “disturb” the referendum. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party has denied the allegation.
The LRA has abducted about 700 people, a third of them children, over the past 18 months as the group seeks to replenish its ranks which were decimated by the military campaign, Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, said on Aug. 11.
“They raided, took everything and burned the houses,” said Mary Martin, a resident of Nzara in Western Equatoria. Martin’s 16-year-old daughter was abducted from their village of Ezo during an LRA attack last month, she said in an interview yesterday.
“I don’t know what has happened to her, maybe they want to make her a wife,” Martin said.
Residents have used arrows and home-made rifles to try and ward off the attackers, said Santino David, the 31-year-old head of a youth militia in Western Equatoria. The Ugandan army has been given permission by the Southern Sudanese government to pursue the LRA rebels within its territory.
“We don’t understand the problem between the LRA and the government of Uganda,” said Abuyi. “We say let them come and get rid of the rebels from our territories. But unfortunately it has taken them now almost five years without getting rid of them.”
On May 15, SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum said the economic policy of Southern Sudan’s government was “to move away from an economy that is dependent on oil to an economy that will now seek the growth of agriculture as an engine of wealth creation itself.”
The government will seek large-scale agricultural programs through private-private partnerships, Amum said.
“These will be long-term projects, starting with studies, to ensure that we develop our agriculture with a vision of making Southern Sudan not only self-sufficient in food but one of the major producers of food in this continent,” he said.
At least 25,000 Southern Sudanese have been displaced by the LRA this year, Grande said.
Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer, with output of 480,000 barrels a day, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Most of the oil is produced in southern Sudan.