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29th April 2004 No 49
Items in this issue
1. Comboni Missionaries press release: Missionaries demand end to slaughter, use of child soldiers and sex slaves in Uganda
2. The Weekly Observer Uganda: Dialogue might break deadlock
3. The Weekly Observer Uganda: Security Council briefed on northern Uganda
4. The Guardian: Ugandan “Archers” help victims of war
5. IRIN: Thousands of Sudanese refugees displaced in the northwest
6. Local Mega FM news
7. Useful Links
The Comboni Missionaries today called upon the governments of the United States and Canada to take action that will encourage an end to the warfare that has ravaged the lives of the Christian population of northern Uganda.
In this war, an insurgent group calling itself the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) killed and disfigured innocent people by the tens of thousands, caused the displacement of 1.5 million refugees, and abducted more than 20,000 children for use as child soldiers and sex slaves.
The call for action by the United States and Canada came in a resolution adopted today by the members of the North American Province of the Comboni Missionaries. This religious institute of Catholic priests and brothers closed its annual Provincial Assembly in Cincinnati today.
The Comboni Missionary Sisters joined their male counterparts in sending the resolution to U.S. President George Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, and the legislative bodies of both countries. The resolution was transmitted with a cover letter jointly signed by Provincial Superiors Very Rev. Dennis W. Conway, mccj, and Sr. Mariateresa Goffi, CMS.
"For the past two decades," the resolution stated, the LRA has employed "hellishly barbaric tactics against the civilian population of northern Uganda, principally the Acholi people."
Using statistics cited by the United Nations News Service, the resolution said, "This insurgency has driven approximately 1.5 million people into displacement camps where they live in extreme deprivation, entirely dependent upon relief for survival …
"In its oppression of this almost uniformly Christian population, the LRA has received support from the ruling National Islamic Front in Sudan; and the LRA has abducted as many as 20,000 children for use as child soldiers and sex slaves, with children making up at least 80 percent of its insurgent force."
The missionaries stated that "this has driven the children of the northern Uganda to migrate into the towns and cities every night in order to hide from the LRA rebels."
Fifteen Comboni Missionaries have been martyred in Uganda over the past 25 years, one of them just last month, and attempts have been made on the lives of a number of others. Some of those killed were slain as a direct result of this conflict and LRA leader Joseph Kony’s personal hatred of Christian missionaries.
The missionaries called upon President Bush, Prime Minister Martin, and their governments to use all of their diplomatic power to help resolve the situation in northern Uganda.
Specifically, they want the United States and Canada to work for the implementation of realistic policies to stop the violence and create the infrastructure for lasting peace. They also asked the two nations to do whatever possible to stop the flow of political, material or military assistance to the LRA.
President Museveni is once again considering peace negotiations with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
Mr Museveni told the nation last week that he is ready to talk with the rebels either directly or through intermediaries in order to end the war.
The President had been frustrated by the failure of previous attempts to talk to the rebels. He had vowed to fight on until the murderous rebels were crushed.
But the pressure on the President to give peace negotiations a chance; from the public, the opposition, civil society and the international community, has been so intense that as a leader, he could not afford to ignore it.
The conflict in northern Uganda has been so devastating that all peace-loving Ugandans would approve of any effort to end the carnage. In 18 years, 1.5 million people have been displaced, 20,000 children abducted, in addition to the thousands killed or maimed. Consequently, the relative development seen in other corners of the country under the present government has eluded northern Uganda, particularly the Acholi sub-region.
This should not be allowed to continue.
The President's latest peace overture brings back hope as it was beginning to fade. We want to believe that he and his government are very sincere in this regard. That being the case, we expect Joseph Kony and his rebel forces to reciprocate Museveni's gesture. Just as it takes two to tangle, it takes two to make peace.
If peace talks with the LRA will achieve what the military approach has failed to achieve in 18 years, let's go for it. After all, it is a much cheaper option.
BRIEFING TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL BY MR. JAN EGELAND, USG FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR
SITUATION IN NORTHERN AND EASTERN UGANDA.
Thank you for the opportunity to brief on the critical humanitarian situation in Northern and Eastern Uganda.
When I visited Northern Uganda last November, I described the situation as the worst forgotten crisis in the world. Six months later, I regret to say that little has changed. The situation in northern and eastern Uganda is a humanitarian disaster. It is a disaster in terms of the conditions under which the population is forced to live, in terms of the lack of protection, security and assistance provided to them, as well as in terms of the significant access problems for humanitarian workers. While the humanitarian response has improved since last November, the number of internally displaced people continues to increase, and there is no end to the conflict in sight. This crisis deserves a deeper and more engaged response from the national and regional authorities as well as from the international community.
The humanitarian crisis is a result of an 18-year long conflict between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. The LRA is a group without an obvious political ideology. Although it is made up of people from the Acholi ethnic group, the main ethnic group in the north, the Acholi have been the primary targets of the LRA’s brutality. The rebels have destabilised and depopulated the north through terror tactics that actively target civilians. The LRA has established a pattern of attacks in which it kills, rapes and tortures civilians, abducts children, and loots and destroys property. Indiscriminate attacks on villages and rural settlements have driven people from their farmlands to the squalid and ill-protected IDP settlements that now dot the north and east. However, the displaced civilians often find little security in the camps, as illustrated by the LRA attack on the Barlonyo camp on 21 February where more than 200 people were killed.
Until 2002, the LRA insurgency was largely confined to the three Acholi districts: Gulu, Kitgum and Pader. In March 2002, the Ugandan People’s Defence Force –the UPDF- launched Operation Iron Fist and attacked the LRA bases in Sudan. In response, the LRA returned to northern Uganda, bringing a dramatic increase in the levels of violence. In mid-2003, the LRA moved south and east, into the districts of Soroti, Katakwi and Kaberamaido, an area that had not been attacked by the LRA for more than ten years.
The impact on the people of northern and eastern Uganda is staggering. As a consequence of the expanded LRA attacks, the number of internally displaced people has almost tripled from 550,000 in January 2002 to more than 1.5 million today. More than 80% of the population of Gulu, Pader and Kitgum districts are displaced. Social services have collapsed and schools and health clinics have either been destroyed or are not functional due to displacement of staff.
The most tragic aspect of
the conflict is its impact on children. This is a war fought by children, on
children. Most of the soldiers are children and most of the victims are children.
By some estimates, minors make up more than 80% of the LRA’s soldiers.
They are not willing recruits. More than 20,000 boys and girls have been abducted,
including at least 10,000 in the last 18 months alone. They have been taken
from their homes and forced to become soldiers or sex slaves for senior commanders.
Children who do manage to escape from the LRA need to be placed in reintegration and counselling centres where they can receive adequate support. However, we receive reports that some escapees face recruitment by the UPDF. Children who return home are also at risk of re-abduction by the LRA.
Life for the children who manage to avoid the LRA is extremely challenging. They live in an environment of pervasive fear and insecurity. The most shocking manifestation of this is the “night commuter” phenomena. Every night, an estimated 40,000 people, mainly children, walk for up to two hours into Gulu, Kitgum, Kalongo and other towns, where they seek shelter for the night in hospitals, schools and other public buildings. I visited thousands of these children on the grounds of the Kitgum Hospital.
Children face other serious protection risks. Neither the IDP camps nor the places where night commuters sleep are secure, and young girls face a serious risk of sexual exploitation and assault. Education is not available for most children. For example, 80% of the children in rural camps outside Lira town have received no education since being displaced.
The Government has primary responsibility to protect the population, yet the conduct of the UPDF often leaves much to be desired. Security in the camps is inadequate, and troops are often ill equipped and unmotivated. The inability of the government to protect the people of the north and east, and specifically to prevent the abduction of children, is a major grievance amongst the population.
The Government has increasingly relied on local defence units, such as the “Arrow Boys” of Teso and the “Rhinos” of Lira, which it has mobilised and complemented the limited UPDF presence. This type of informal arrangement can easily contribute to the proliferation of small arms, and appears to have done little to increase the protection afforded to the people. There is fear that the creation of these groups could be a source of inter-ethnic conflict and of further destabilisation.
Access to people in need is a pressing concern for the humanitarian community. The LRA presence severely limits movement beyond the main towns, and the LRA has attacked humanitarian convoys. As a consequence, many inaccessible areas are deprived of basic humanitarian assistance.
The UPDF does provide some military escorts but this mechanism is not suitable for vital health and water and sanitation interventions, which require sustained presence on the ground. We are attempting to negotiate access and security with the LRA, and while a channel of communication has been opened, no concrete results have been achieved to date.
after initially being too slow to respond, are now increasing their efforts.
Many UN agencies and NGOs have been expanding their presence and programmes,
and have opened new offices. WFP has long had an important operation. Now UNICEF
has strengthened its programmes, particularly in the areas of child protection
and water and sanitation. OCHA has opened three new offices in Kitgum, Lira
and Soroti, and expanded its office in Gulu. However, much more needs to be
A further worry is HIV/AIDS prevalence rates. As many Council members are aware, Uganda has been in the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS and has made remarkable progress towards controlling the spread of the disease. However, persistent insecurity has impeded surveillance and control programmes in the north, while fostering the conditions under which HIV can easily be transmitted. HIV programmes in the camps are urgently needed. Although no comprehensive study has been done, smaller studies indicate prevalence rates far above the national level of 5%. It would be a tragedy if Uganda’s progress on this front becomes another casualty of the war.
One area where assistance has been more successful is the delivery of food aid, where WFP, using armed military escorts, currently assists close to 1.5 million IDPs. Our most recent assessment show, however, that food security is deteriorating. Insecurity prevents most IDPs from moving more than a few kilometres outside the camp to farm.
This increases dependence on food aid, and undermines attempts to preserve self-reliance. At the moment, insecurity is preventing planting in many areas, and the current season is likely to be lost.
The humanitarian response is also constrained by funding shortages. So far this year, we have received less than 10% of the $127 million requested through the Consolidated Appeal. WFP faces a break in their cereals pipeline in May if no additional resources are found. We are presently revising our Appeal and expect the amount requested to rise due to the increase needs on the ground. I would urge member states to consider providing additional contributions as soon as possible.
The Government also needs to do more. District authorities are woefully under-funded, and support for social services is minimal. It was unfortunate that President Museveni refused to accept a parliamentary motion to declare the north a “humanitarian disaster area”, at the end of February, as this motion would have required the Government to prioritise its responses to the war-stricken regions.
Given the deteriorating situation, there is an urgent need to find an end to the conflict. We cannot allow this conflict to continue for another 18 years. A generation of children has grown up brutalised, dispossessed, uneducated, and dependent on relief assistance. The rich Acholi traditions and culture have been severely damaged. We must take immediate steps to improve the humanitarian assistance and expand protection. We must search for longer-term responses and ensure people are able to go home to their lands. I do not believe that there is a military solution, and thus we need to consider ways to peacefully resolve the conflict. This is the persistent message from the people I met with on the ground. There have been some indications in recent days that new opportunities for dialogue between the Government and the LRA may be developing which would be most welcome, and should be encouraged by the international community. However, in the meantime fighting continues with devastating effects.
International pressure must be placed on the LRA and its brutal commanders, particularly by organisations and Governments with the possibility to influence it. The LRA must immediately stop its violent attacks against civilians and begin releasing its child captives to the responsible authorities. It must allow unimpeded humanitarian access throughout the north and east. It must indicate its unconditional willingness to enter into negotiations, stop attacks on civilians, end the war and demobilise the child combatants.
The Government of Uganda must increase its efforts to provide adequate protection to the people affected by the conflict, and ensure that children who escape from the LRA are treated properly, protected from re-abduction, and are not subjected to mistreatment or recruitment into the UPDF or the militias.
The Government should clearly indicate that it supports a peaceful end to the conflict because there is, Mr. President, no military solution to the civil strife in northern and eastern Uganda.
Like many children in northern Uganda, Omony has witnessed boys and girls committing terrible crimes. But he can talk about his experiences in a way others cannot.
The reason: because the 15-year-old is a character in a radio soap called Ngom Wa, inspired by the long-running BBC drama series The Archers, which is allowing northern Ugandans to confront the horrors of an 18-year civil war in which children have been both victims and aggressors.
The local equivalent of the village of Ambridge is a fictitious refugee camp where four families dramatise the hardships of life in a war zone.
Omony, played by teenager Martin Ojara, is a former abductee - like the thousands of children kidnapped by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and made to serve as porters, child soldiers, or forced "wives". After escaping from the rebels, he speaks to his family of his experiences in the bush, which include watching other children carrying out murders armed with bayonets and machetes.
"In the [real refugee] camps you can't talk about these things, because there may be rebels in the camp," the serial's director, Ovin Oloya, said. "But on the radio you can."
Like the characters in Ngom Wa, thousands of northern Ugandans have fled their traditional villages for refugee camps.
Mr Oloya said: "Ngom Wa means 'Our Land', but almost everyone in the north lives in the camps now. They have left their original land. Now they have don't have a place that our people call a Wang Oo, which is where parents and children sit and talk under the trees in the evening. If you want a Wang Oo today you have to listen to the radio."
In the series, Omony begins to live a normal life after his nightmarish experiences. In one recent episode he borrows a bicycle to give a lift to a girl he fancies, but embarrassingly suffers a puncture on the way home.
It is the kind of mundane storyline that might sound familiar to listeners to the Archers in Britain (where the programme has been broadcast since 1951), but by showing that there is life after the LRA, the drama aims to counter the rebels' brainwashing of their captives.
With the same intent, the radio station that airs Ngom Wa, Mega FM, also broadcasts accounts by genuine former abductees. In response the station has been threatened by the LRA, which forbids its junior ranks from owning or listening to radios.
The LRA, led by a self-proclaimed mystic called Joseph Kony, appears to behave more like a doomsday cult than a conventional guerrilla army. Kony claims to be guided by spirits, including an American called King Bruce who is responsible for turning stones thrown by rebel fighters into grenades. But the rebels' blend of traditional and Christian religious beliefs holds a powerful sway over their followers and creates fear among the general population.
Lacking support from most northerners because of its brutality - the most recent large-scale atrocity was the massacre of 200 people at a refugee camp in February - the rebels replenish their ranks with abducted children.
Kidnapped children can spend years in the bush, where the girls are forced to "marry" rebel commanders and their children are raised within the LRA's belief system from birth.
Evelyn Achan, 19, spent nine years with the LRA before being freed during a battle with the Ugandan army.
"I was 11 and I was given to a man called Simon Anywar, a major, to be his wife," she said, nursing her two-year-old son Dick at a rehabilitation centre in the town of Gulu. "Anywar was 29 and already had two wives. I felt bad about this, but if you refused, they would kill you."
The Ugandan government is intent on ending the conflict on the battlefield, and on paper that looks easy. The LRA has lost the support it once enjoyed from Uganda's northern neighbour Sudan. Lacking bases and sources of new weaponry, it is a ragtag band on the run. But a handful of rebels keep a large area in turmoil by striking at civilian targets.
Western donors believe that peace can be achieved only through negotiation. Britain's international development secretary, Hilary Benn, visited Uganda this month to convey this message to President Yoweri Museveni.
"The government needs to do all of the things which we hope will contribute to bringing this to an end, not simply to press the military route," Mr Benn said. "It's about persuading [the rebels] that if they do give up fighting they can come back and be reintegrated."
United Nations agencies have begun an assessment mission in northwestern Uganda following the mass displacement of Sudanese refugees by Ugandan rebels, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told IRIN on Monday.
The UNHCR spokesman for Uganda, Dennis Duncan, said an assessment team comprising UNHCR, World Food Programme and UN Development Programme officials had been sent to the affected districts of Moyo and Adjumani "to figure out where it is safe and where it is not".
"There are tens of thousands that have been displaced over the last three months," Duncan said. "The concern is self-reliance strategies breaking down as a result. There is no huge emergency, but it's planting season soon. We are concerned that if they do not plant now, there could be food shortages further down the road."
In recent months, small gangs of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, in search of food and medicine, have been attacking Sudanese refugee settlements in the area. The attacks have partly resulted from increased pressure on the LRA inside Sudan from the Ugandan army under an agreement authorising the army to pursue the rebels inside Sudan.
Many of the rebels have reportedly fled into northwestern Uganda. UN officials said mounting insecurity had forced their agencies working in the northwestern districts to be evacuated to the west bank of the Albert Nile. "We've moved our personnel to Moyo town and they have to come over east again in the daytime to work," Duncan said.
However, he added that the rebels had not been killing or kidnapping in the region. "As of yet, there are no deaths, no abductions - apart from short-term abductions to help carry loot. They are not going after the people," he said.
The LRA have fought in northern Uganda for 18 years. Led by a reclusive mystic, Joseph Kony, who lives in caves in southern Sudan, they have committed many atrocities against defenceless civilians in the northern and eastern regions. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 1.5 million people have been displaced by fear of rebel attacks since the war began.
Killed by Colleagues in Apac
A militiaman of the Amuka local defense force attached to Too Peyero Village in Inomo sub-county in Apac District was shot dead yesterday by colleagues who had gone to disarm him.
The Gombolola Internal Security Officer of Inomo said the militiaman, identified as Ebong Ador deserted the force with two guns and 11 magazines, which he was using to intimidate and extort money from civilians.
He said the victim threatened to kill the men who were sent from the detach to retrieve the gun from him, forcing them to shoot him.
Senior Rebel Commander
A senior LRA rebel commander surrendered today to the UPDF in Gulu district. Capt. Charles Abola and 29 of his fighters surrendered to the Army in Lamogi sub-county.
Abola and his colleagues were welcomed by the Operation Iron Fist Intelligence Coordinator, Lt. Col Charles Otema Awany and the 4th Division deputy Commander Lt. Col. Charles Anywar at Acholi Inn.
The 29-year-old rebel Captain said he surrendered because the rebellion no longer made any sense to him, and that he was concerned by the suffering of the people of northern Uganda as a result of the war.
Lt. Col. Otema Awany said Abola’s surrender is a sign that the war in northern Uganda is coming to an end. Meanwhile President Museveni has urged other rebels still in the bush to follow Abola’s example.
Speaking to Mega FM this evening, the President promised that the government would help in the resettlement of rebels who lay down their arms and seek peaceful means of resolving the conflict. He warned, however, that the Army would continue to hunt down and kill those who continue to fight.
1. New Vision online discussion
board: Is it possible to have a military solution to the Kony war? http://www.newvision.co.ug/B/D/277/1
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