Lee Ridley: Sudan Dispatch
Tues 14th March - I was fortunate to be introduced to Betty Bigombe, the Museveni/LRA Peace Talks Mediator, yesterday. She told me that she was sad that the talks were not proving to be successful, but that she will remain in contact with the rebels as long as there is hope. I travelled from Gulu to Lira in the evening, just after nightfall. Not the wisest of moves, especially considering that now the rains have started, the vegetation is growing, which always initiates renewed rebel attacks. There have been a number of attacks in the last couple of weeks, always following the same pattern - Vehicle shot at until it stops; driver killed instantly; others robbed of shoes, clothes and possession and then shot. Driving these roads at night requires nerves of steel and a heavy foot on the accelerator.
I was shown around the centre and had a short interview with a 10-year-old boy, who has only recently escaped from the LRA in Sudan. He was taken when he was only six, and his stories are upsettingly similar to all the others. He seemed so withdrawn and traumatised, the small, cuddly toy hanging out of his pocket adding a strong poignancy to the moment. When he grows up, he says he dreams of getting a job; saving up enough money to buy a car; and "just driving". Met Els at Karuma, on the Victoria Nile, late morning, as she was on route from Southern Sudan. She had spent the last few days travelling between Yei and Juba, meeting several people from the UPDF and SPLA. Hotels rooms were at $250USD per night and tents were being charged at $150USD per night (all run by Arabs). The situation in southern Sudan is evolving these days, now that the SPLA holds sway, and trade routes with Uganda are open. For over 20 years, consumables have been flown down to Juba on military flights, and distributed through stores, owned by military personel's family. They call these stores "army shops", and everything is priced at around 300% the cost of that in Khartoum. People are not allowed to till the land in the south, and subsequently, no one can afford to live there. Only the livestock farmers can survive. However, now that the SPLA has opened the trade routes into Northern Uganda, aided by the fact that $B4.5USD has been sunk into infrastructure development in the region (Yei - Juba highway 60% tarmac), the cost of living has plummeted, and life is returning. No surprise in southern Sudan the Ugandans are wonderful, and Khartoum is the big evil. Khartoum, of course, isn't taking this lying down. And that's where the LRA come in. Now they have a new agenda... Whilst a few skirmishes continue in N Uganda, this is mainly down to the fact that communications are down between the various groups and they are operating independently of each other. The bigger picture is that Khartoum is now funding the LRA to do their best to destroy the Ugandan trade routes around Yei and Juba; and to generally destabilise the region. In essence, the LRA have become mercs. The main victims of the LRA in southern Sudan are the sudanese civilians. They're the ones who are now being butchered. There have been numerous attacks in recent months and they have all gone unreported. Until now. Understandibly, the people fear the LRA and hate the Khartoum government for backing them. The north-south divide in Sudan, is getting wider, it seems. This war in Equatoria, is far from over. Lee Ridley.
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