Summary
LRA forces have abducted three children, and temporarily detained and looted 92 people during a series of 20 attacks in April and May. A majority of the attacks occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Uele provinces, with several other attacks taking place in neighboring areas of South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). These recent attacks follow the abduction of at least 50 Congolese civilians by LRA groups in March 2020. Affected communities have utilized a regional Early Warning System (EWS) to document the attacks and activate local risk mitigation strategies, such as traveling in groups when going to their fields.
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Sequencing of attacks in April and May
During April and May, the LRA systematically carried out ambushes and lootings along key routes and within communities in the Ueles and neighboring areas of CAR and South Sudan, including:
  1. April 6: An LRA group looted the community of Ligoua, CAR, prompting community members to flee to Obo.
  2. April 6-10: LRA forces camped near Bougoua, CAR. The group looted food and other goods from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the looted goods before releasing them later that day.
  3. April 18: An LRA group ambushed 17 travelers along the Duru-Dungu axis in DRC, forcing them into the bush and then looting their goods. One boy was killed as he tried to escape. The group reportedly ambushed six soldiers, killing one while the other soldiers exchanged fire with the assailants before retreating.
  4. April 20: LRA forces looted a border market 4 km south of Sakure, in South Sudan.
  5. April 24: An LRA group comprised of men, women, and children, ambushed 18 travelers 13 km south of Bayote, DRC, holding them hostage for six hours and looting money and other goods.
  6. April 27: LRA forces attacked Linamboli, 6 km south of Kapili, DRC. The assailants went house-to-house, systematically looting food and other goods.  
  7. April 30: An LRA group, comprised of men and women, ambushed and looted 35 people near Soki, DRC. Two members of the security forces fell into the ambush and were killed. 
  8. May 8: An LRA group comprised of nine combatants and a woman, ambushed six people traveling on bicycles near Mbiangu, located 15 km north of Kapili, DRC. The assailants forced the travelers into the bush, where they were looted and held hostage for an hour before being released.
  9. May 13: LRA forces ambushed a motor-taxi driver and soldier 10 km east of Mabia, DRC, killing the driver. The soldier was injured while exchanging fire with the assailants, during which one of the attackers was killed. 
  10. May 14: An LRA group looted three hunters 5 km south of Makpolo, DRC. The assailants looted their hunting rifles and food.

These attacks are reflective of common LRA tactics, including dividing into sub-groups with one group carrying out roadside ambushes, while another group remains in the bush guarding captives and looted goods. Additionally, the composition of the groups—including the presence of women and children—is indicative of the LRA. Other armed groups, such as South Sudanese rebels from the National Salvation Front (NAS) and poachers, also periodically operate in Haut Uele province, but no available evidence indicates they were responsible for any of the reported LRA attacks. The EWS also documented two additional attacks in DRC in which the identity of the assailants could not be determined. In total, LRA groups have abducted at least six civilians in April and May and temporarily detained 92 others during roadside ambushes and attacks on communities. In some cases, abductees were forced to porter looted goods or guide them through the bush before releasing them. Three children, one boy and two girls, who were abducted in April remain missing and presumed in captivity. This increase in LRA activity may stem from a string of defections which occured in January, forcing groups to strengthen their numbers and possibly shift their locations fearing military operations. The surge of lootings may coincide with the end of the dry season, as LRA groups seek to stock-up on goods and supplies to last through the rainy season during which mobility is increasingly difficult.

Displacement of civilians
The escalation of LRA activity has led to displacement in the region. Within DRC, residents of Kapili and near-by communities have fled to Kana. Others have fled to Limai and Dungu. Peuhl pastoralists from the Adama area have fled the region, moving towards Api. Some of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have since returned to their communities. Additionally, a number of Congolese have also sought refuge across the border, in South Sudan. While there have not been any confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Ueles, the insecurity and displacement of civilians hinders access to health services in an already unserved region and presents challenges in mobilizing a humanitarian response. Organizations in South Sudan have responded to the influx of Congolese refugees by establishing temporary protection sites to house the displaced for two weeks before transferring them to refugee camps. However, the limited presence of humanitarian organizations in the Ueles leaves IDPs particularly vulnerable as they remain reliant on local host communities.

Risk mitigation strategies implemented in affected communities
Communities in DRC and in neighboring South Sudan communities have adopted a number of strategies to mitigate these threats, frequently coordinating via the regional HF radio EWS. In Naparka, local leaders have restricted movement early in the morning and in the evening and advised to travel in groups. Some communities, such as Gangala and Diabio, have ceased farming activities outside of the community, while others only travel in groups when going to engage in livelihood activities outside of the communities. Despite these measures, the continued attacks on roads and in the bush outside of communities severely restricts the movement and livelihood strategies of civilians in the region, undermining local economies and food security in the region. If these attacks continue unabated they threaten to cause a humanitarian crisis in the region.