LAMWO. Hundreds of South Sudan refugees are crossing into Lamwo District following renewed fears of fighting between Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and several militia groups occupying areas in the country’s Imatong State, Lamwo District officials have said.
The Lamwo Resident District Commissioner, Mr Jonathan Rutabingwa, said on Tuesday that they have received reports of deployment of government forces in rebel- held areas, a situation that is forcing many locals to flee. He said every week, nearly 100 South Sudanese are pouring into Lamwo District which is already hosting more than 5,000 of the refugees.
According to security officials at the border, the refugees mostly women, children and the elderly, are crossing through Aweno-olwii, Ngom-oromo and Waligo in Lokung Sub-county and Apiriti in Madi-Opei Sub-county.
Intelligence reports from security officials at the Uganda-South Sudan border indicates that South Sudan government troops are deploying heavily in rebel-held territories in Imatong State with the aim of launching offensives against the militias soon.
“We suspect that the government wants to take back areas such as Ayaci, Pajok, Pogea and Panyikwara in Imatong State, which are under the control of various militias. We are, however, prepared to accommodate the fleeing refugees and also keep security at our common border,” Mr Rutabingwa said.
S. Sudan government denies
But the Commissioner of Ayaci County in Imatong State, Mr Benson Onek, in a telephone interview denied any heavy deployment of SPLA soldiers in the area, arguing that those fleeing South Sudan are escaping from the famine.
He said the locals could have mistaken the heightened patrol by customs officials as troop deployment by the SPLA soldiers.
“Our area is safe; people are working and moving freely. Our customs officials are engaged in patrol everywhere and this could have scared the locals,” Mr Onek said.
Last week, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) opened three resettlement camps in Lamwo District. The camps are expected to host more than 7,000 refugees fleeing the South Sudan and those that have been integrated into communities in the district.
Mr Rutabingwa said the establishment of a refugee reception centre by OPM UNHCR is underway in Palabek Ogili, Palabek Gem and Palabek Kal, all in Lamwo District.
“OPM is carrying out selection of implementing partners and survey of the land offered,” Mr Rutabingwa said
In September last year, Uganda heightened security at its border points following an offensive by SPLA troops against militia forces operating in the Imatong State, forcing hundreds of South Sudanese refugees into Uganda.
Uganda currently hosts more than 700,000 South Sudanese refugees, the highest numbers ever recorded in history according to UNHCR statistics.
Majority of the refugees being hosted in Northern Uganda crossed into the country following renewed fighting that erupted last year between forces loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir and those of his former Vice president Riek Machar.