More than 100 people were recently killed in southern Sudan by Ugandan rebels belonging to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in raids on villages around the towns of Torit and Juba, a relief worker in the area said.
"I have been in southern Sudan, and the reports we got indicate that the LRA attacked people in the villages and in the fields. They [the LRA] killed many of them," the relief worker told IRIN. Saying the dead numbered more than 100, he added: "The villages are situated between Torit and Juba, [and] are remote and inaccessible, because some are either in areas controlled by the SPLM/A [Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army] or the government forces."
The Equatoria Defence Forces (EDF), a local militia group allied to the SPLM/A, said in a statement issued on Wednesday that 122 had been killed. It said the LRA, which has bases in southern Sudan, had killed the villagers between 25 June and 27 June.
According to the EDF, 47 were killed in Lyangari, 25 at Lowai, one at Longairo, 25 at Moti, 15 at Lolyanga and nine at Logire, all villages in Eastern Equatoria. Earlier, on 13 June, another 70 civilians had been killed by the LRA in the region, the EDF said, adding that it had engaged the LRA for three days, killing 20 rebels and losing seven fighters.
"Three task forces of LRA numbering up to 2,000 men were ferried from their positions in Torit and Juba-Torit road, to Koro Lakabata, about nine miles from Torit. From this position, the heavily armed LRA marched on foot to Ngangala near the government garrison of Jabal Mille," the EDF statement said. "[...] the rebels launched attacks against the villages of Jabal Guttni and Khawr Englizi, overrunning and ransacking these villages, burning and looting everything."
Meanwhile, former LRA officers on Wednesday requested the Ugandan government to hold peace talks with the rebels, saying this was the only way to end the war that had ravaged northern Uganda.
Ray Apire, an ex-LRA captain, told reporters at the Ugandan army headquarters in Bombo, 38 km north of the capital, Kampala, that he had surrendered from the LRA to try and push for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. "I surrendered to the army because I wanted to be the sacrifice of peace. I came to ask for peace talks because the suffering must stop," the 50-year-old Apire said. "Let the president ask for peace talks so that our people's suffering will stop."
Seven former rebel officers, including a female fighter, were presented to journalists by army officials, a few hours after they had been transferred from the north to Kampala. They were reported to be waiting to meet senior Ugandan government and military officials. Most of them had spent over 10 years fighting for the LRA.
An ex-LRA major, Jackson Acama, who surrendered with 37 other fighters after losing a limb to a bullet, said he was a member of LRA's high command, but had not seen LRA chief, Joseph Kony, for two years. He said he had surrendered after receiving news while at his base in southern Sudan that all his relatives, including his only two brothers, had been killed.
The LRA has fought the Uganda government since 1986, waging a brutal campaign that has displaced about 1.6 million people. The rebels have particularly targeted children, abducting thousands of young boys and girls for recruitment into their ranks, or to be turned into "wives" for its commanders.
Religious leaders and peace activists have urged the Ugandan government to engage in talks with the rebels. But President Yoweri Museveni, who accuses Sudan of backing the LRA, says that his army will continue to fight until it defeats the rebels militarily.