After months of relative inactivity, attacks by the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army have resumed in South Sudan. Recent attacks have taken place in South Sudan's Western Equatoria State, where the rebel group may be planning to set up a base.
The most recent attack by the Lord's Resistance Army occurred on Monday on the road that links the capital of Western Equatoria State, Yambio, to Tambura near South Sudan's border with Central African Republic.
Witnesses say LRA fighters ambushed a government vehicle and killed two local officials and their driver.
The day before, a group of several dozen LRA fighters, including three women, attacked a clinic in a town just north of Tambura. The group looted food and medicine from the compound and left with as many as eight hostages. The hostages managed to escape despite being badly beaten.
A field researcher for the U.S.-based, anti-genocide Enough Project, Ledio Cakaj, tells VOA the Lord's Resistance Army began targeting towns in Western Equatoria State in March, launching their attacks from eastern Congo and the Central African Republic.
"They usually do not attack in Western Equatoria State from Congo or CAR [Central African Republic]. However, recently it appears certain LRA groups are trying to set up base in South Sudan and attack periodically," said Cakaj.
Cakaj says some LRA groups have been observed moving from Western Equatoria State toward an area in Western Bahr el Ghazal to the north. The area was once a base for LRA's director of operations Dominic Ongwen, and Cakaj says it is possible that the commander is hiding there now. Ongwen, along with rebel leader Joseph Kony and another key commander, is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Since emerging as a Ugandan rebel group in 1986, the Lord's Resistance Army is blamed for the massacre of thousands of civilians and leaving a trail of devastation in four African countries. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says the Lord's Resistance Army caused most of the displacement in central Africa last year with hundreds of thousands uprooted from their homes.
In the early part of this decade, the Sudanese government in Khartoum was widely accused of aiding the Lord's Resistance Army in South Sudan in retaliation for Uganda's support of South Sudan's two decade-long fight for autonomy. LRA leaders have said the group once received support from the Sudanese government, but they cut ties with Khartoum in 2002.
A peace accord ended Sudan's civil war in 2005. But with political tensions rising again in the country ahead of next year's referendum on independence for South Sudan, Ledio Cakaj says there is growing fear that the government in Khartoum may have struck another alliance with the Lord's Resistance Army in a bid to destabilize the region.
"This is our biggest fear," said Cajaj. "However, I would not think this is a coordinated effort of the LRA to start destabilizing South Sudan in light of the referendum next year. These are probably attacks by small groups, which have as their aim to keep the Ugandan army engaged and stretched thin in three different countries," Cakaj said.
In March, Enough Project reported that the Lord's Resistance Army had found safe haven in Sudan's troubled western Darfur region. The rebel group swiftly dismissed the report.