Meet the Arrow Boys, the South Sudanese tribal militia that is the last line of defence against Ugandan rebel group LRA
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald - www.smh.com.au
Author: Jason Koutsoukis
Date: Saturday, 27 November 2010
Photo: Protecting their families ... the Arrow Boys Samuel Manese 2nd from left and Deputy Chief Acquila Daniel 4th from right at rear, use an array of weapons against the insurgents. Photo: Kate Geraghty
(KASSIA, Sudan) - Meet the Arrow Boys, the South Sudanese tribal militia that is the last line of defence against Africa's most feared insurgent gang - the Lord's Resistance Army.
Granting rare media access to the Herald in the tiny jungle outpost of Kassia, less than 40 kilometres north of the Congo border, the local Arrow Boys chief, Samuel Manase, said the savagery of the attacks by the LRA was difficult to comprehend.
''They last attacked this village in September,'' Mr Manase said. ''They killed two people and tried to abduct three children but we succeeded in rescuing the children.''
He said the death toll in Kassia from the LRA this year was about 20. ''They kill in different ways. Sometimes people are shot dead, other times men are surrounded by a circle of LRA members beaten to death with clubs. Earlier this year I saw men here being chopped up with pangas [machetes].''
Comprised mostly of men in their teens and early 20s, the Arrow Boys were founded in the South Sudanese state of Western Equatoria last year and employ an unconventional arsenal that includes bows and arrows, spears, even poison darts, in their attempts to fend off LRA attacks.
''We use whatever weapons we can make from the materials here in the forest,'' Mr Manase said. ''We receive some assistance from the government of South Sudan in the form of small arms but it is very little.
''In the last LRA attack in September, it was the wild bees. As they tried to enter Kassia the LRA disturbed several large nests and then the bees set upon them.''
Chased out of Uganda in 2005, the LRA has since marauded through the jungles of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic in search of refuge from the Uganda People's Defence Force.
The LRA chief, Joseph Kony, is now thought to be hiding out in southern Darfur under the auspices of the national government of Sudan, which is opposed to South Sudan's likely secession from Khartoum in a referendum scheduled for January 9.
Kony, 49, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, and styles himself as a Christian ''prophet'' whose mission is to turn Uganda into a theocracy ruled by the Ten Commandments.
Now the LRA is little more than a gang of bandits, with little, if any, real political motive, engaged in a battle for survival.
The Arrow Boys deputy commander in Kassia, Aquila Daniel, said the LRA attacked without warning. ''Their only motive plunder,'' he said. ''They take our food, and they take any other possessions we have including women and children.''
In the event of an attack, an alarm is sounded to mobilise the Arrow Boys.
''We are here hiding in the trees, waiting. The boys have little training; they only want to protect their families,'' Mr Daniel said.
''It is difficult to know how many of the LRA we kill because whenever an LRA member falls, the others in the group are under orders to bring back their bodies to their camp, whatever the cost.
''So occasionally we find traces of blood in the grass, we hope it is evidence that we have killed one of them, but we have never been able to claim a body.''
Emmanuel Samuel, 10, joined the arrow boys in July when he heard the LRA were in the area.
''The village elders told me to stay in the village but I wanted to follow my father,'' Emmanuel said.''I have fired my weapon [a bow and arrow] just once.
''No, I was not afraid because my mother and father were there fighting alongside me.''
Kate Geraghty travelled to Sudan courtesy of Doctors Without Borders