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Rebel Attacks Force UN to Suspend Humanitarian Activities in Southern Sudan


Authorities in Sudan say renewed attacks by Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (L.R.A.) rebels in Sudan's Western Equatoria region have displaced 5,000 civilians. A doctor, just back to the U.S. from a medical mission in Uganda says the medical personnel have had to weigh the risks posed by the LRA.

The United Nations says new attacks by LRA rebels have further hampered humanitarian efforts in southern Sudan, an area already in crisis.

Two people were reported killed in LRA attacks last week. And the notorious rebels also kidnapped 10 girls, stole food supplies, torched a church and a health center, and looted medical supplies.

"All U.N. humanitarian work in the border region between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was suspended as result of these attacks, and aid workers were evacuated by helicopter to safe ground," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokeswoman, Marie Okabe.


The U.N. refugee agency says 29 humanitarian workers were evacuated from the remote region.

Just days ago, on August 19, the U.N. highlighted the escalating dangers aid workers face with the first observance of World Humanitarian Day. The U.N. says more humanitarian workers were attacked last year than ever before, with 260 kidnapped, killed or seriously wounded.

Elizabeth Bellino is a pediatrician based in the southern U.S. city of New Orleans, Louisiana. She knows first-hand the challenges aid workers face from her her own experiences treating patients in medical centers in southwestern Uganda. She told VOA the population's overwhelming need for medical attention outweighs the security risks she faces.

"You see kids everyday who are three and four, who have the trifecta -- they have malaria, HIV, malnutrition -- and they are just so resilient. They are unbelievable, and their families are so resilient in what they do -- just strive to live," she said.

Bellino returned from a hospital in southwestern Uganda on August 16. She says even aid workers who are not directly in conflict zones can observe a curfew and stay in close contact as security precautions. "There is pretty good communication around and everyone kind of talks about what any possible danger coming up. I mean, the big thing is the LRA, the Lord's Resistance Army, so you have to worry about them coming in. But, it is always in the back of your mind, but I never really feel unsafe, per se," she said.

But the threat weighed more heavily on Bellino's mind briefly earlier this year. She was treating patients in southwestern Uganda's Bwindi hospital, where Ugandan villagers, indigenous Batwa people, and refugees from Rwanda and the DRC, seek treatment. "If you hear something is going to happen, then I usually will take the precautions to get out. In January and February, when I was there, there was actually rumors that there possibly was a raid coming. We actually prepared to leave," she said.

But Bellino says she remained at the hospital after talking with nearby Doctors Without Borders' workers and embassy staffers in Kampala.

Bellino will be returning to Uganda in January as the medical superintendent at Mutolere hospital in Kisoro. "This time, however I will be by myself, so I think if I hear something, I probably will make a move to get out. But I have never really felt that unsafe. You know the risk is out there, and it is just a risk you have to take," she said.

The Lord's Resistance Army has fought a 20-year war against the Ugandan government and has a history of killing, kidnapping, and maiming civilians across four central African countries.

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