By Bismarck Swangin
WESTERN EQUATORIA STATE, Southern Sudan, 18 March 2011 – Women and children in Southern Sudan have been among those most affected by the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the Ugandan rebel group operating from Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
|VIDEO: 15 March 2011 - UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell reports on the impact of conflict on families in Southern Sudan, where he travelled with Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow. Watch in RealPlayer|
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow and UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell visited Southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria State last week and listened to first-hand testimonies at a UNICEF-supported transit centre for children rescued from the LRA. They also visited communities displaced by the rebels.
“We have come here at what should be such a hopeful time for everyone in Southern Sudan,” said Ms. Farrow. “But the lives of children along the border areas continue to be torn apart by violence – at times with unimaginable brutality. The women and children I spoke to were living in terror, afraid to go to their fields for food, afraid to go to school or even remain in their homes. They told me that what they want and need most is safety and protection.”
‘A time of transition’
In the border region of Abyei, Ms. Farrow and Mr. Bell saw empty villages abandoned by families fleeing recent clashes or fearing further attacks.
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow, holding Yamima, speaks with the child’s mother, Jerrissa Edward, in a displaced community near the town of Nzara in Western Equatoria State, Southern Sudan.|
Some of those displaced by the tension in Abyei had recently returned from Northern Sudan, where they lived in displacement for more than a decade due to the north-south civil war that raged from 1983 to 2005. Hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese streamed back from the north ahead of the 9 January referendum in which southerners overwhelmingly voted for secession; they are due to form an independent country as of 9 July.
“In all my ten years with UNICEF I have never found its work more necessary,” said Mr. Bell. “Southern Sudan is in a time of transition, with great opportunities and great dangers ahead. The new country’s future lies in its children, and UNICEF is concentrating its efforts on changing their lives for the better.”
Joyce’s story: Abducted and rescued
The LRA, which has waged war against the Government of Uganda for close to two decades, is notorious for abductions, particularly of women and children. Young abductees are often forced to participate in acts of violence or to kill fellow child captives who have attempted to escape. Very few of them manage to flee to safety. Those who remain with the LRA are used as sex slaves or porters, or forced into combat operations.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0436/de Viguerie|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow (centre) and UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell (background) are greeted at Yambio's airport in Southern Sudan.|
Joyce, a young woman who testified about her past experiences during the visit by Ms. Farrow and Mr. Bell, was abducted in her village in Southern Sudan in 2007 at the age of 15. She and many other captives were marched through hills and swamps across the border to DR Congo, where the LRA has bases.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was tired but I had to pretend to be strong. Otherwise, I would have been killed,” said Joyce.
When the LRA attacked her village, she recalled, they killed those who attempted to flee, torched homes and abducted anyone they could find. When the abducted girls arrived in DR Congo, they were distributed among the fighters as wives. “There was no option,” said Joyce. “We only prayed that they should not kill us.”
Joyce was recently rescued after her abusive rebel husband let her go following attacks on the LRA bases, which scattered the fighters and made it difficult for them to take the women along. With support from UNICEF, the Central Equatoria State Ministry of Social development successfully located Ms. Joyce’s family, and she is now reunited with them.
Stephen’s story: Glad to be home
Another former abductee who told his story, Stephen, 16, was taken in January 2008 from a village not far from Joyce’s. He had gone out to play with his friends when the LRA attacked and abducted him with some of his friends.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0438/de Viguerie|
|UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell visits a community of displaced people in Southern Sudan who fled their homes after attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army.|
For three years, Stephen was forced into fighting. “They gave me a gun. It was long and heavy, but I was told that if I lost it, I and my entire family would be exterminated,” he said.
After an attack on the LRA bases by a coalition of the armies of Uganda, Southern Sudan and DR Congo, Stephen was shot in the leg. He was rescued by the Ugandan Army and transported to Uganda for treatment. After making a full recovery, he was flown to Southern Sudan and reunited with his family.
Stephen said he was happy to return home, go to school and complete his studies, adding: “I will put the past behind me and work hard to catch up with my school.”
Working with the Government of Southern Sudan, UNICEF provides a basic package of services to children and young people like Joyce and Stephen, and their families, to foster effective reintegration into the community.
Mia Farrow speaks about her role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and her time in Darfur
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