A CRISIS IN "THE PEARL OF AFRICA" (UGANDA)
by Stan Griffin
Graphics by Heather Peck
The United Nations is sending help to the east African nation of Uganda. It is asking donors in the world community to provide $6 million every month to support a relief effort there. Why? Has there been natural disaster: flood, drought, earthquake, famine, or something equally calamitous? No, what has happened is entirely man made: a campaign of "violence and intimidation" conducted by a Ugandan rebel group called the Lords Army Resistance. They made their first attack on an army base in Gulu in 1986.
For the past 18 years, the L.A.R. has terrorized the people of northern and eastern Uganda with murders, kidnapping, maiming, torture, and other atrocities. Tens of thousands of civilians have been murdered. About 3/4 of the people (a number estimated to be 1.5 million) have left their homes in those areas, and they are living in camps barely surviving on supplies from the U. N.’s World Food Program. It is the only humanitarian agency able to reach all of the "temporary villages." Uganda now has Africa’s third-largest displaced population (after Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo).
In these "I. D. P, (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, refugees live in huts called Tukuls. They have thatched roofs and are usually built very close to each other. Families cook inside them, but the ever-present smoke worsens acute respiratory infections among children. Two other prevalent diseases are malaria and diarrhea. Sheer numbers of residents hamper the construction of water distribution facilities.
Provisions come to the I.D.P. sites on truck convoys, usually with a military escort. Trips are made over dreadful roads; sometimes six days a week, three times a day. Convoys with escorts are accompanied by three armored personnel carriers and 80 Ugandan soldiers. Access without an escort is possible only 20% to 40% of the time.
Even living in an I.D.P. camp does not guarantee safety. This was tragically illustrated in February when a camp near Lira was attacked by rebel forces; 200 refugees were massacred and many others injured.
The L. A. R. has kidnapped 30,000 children since the mid-1990s. All of them were taken to rebel camps across the border in southern Sudan. Boys are trained to use weapons, forced to become soldiers and participate in rebel raids. Against their wills, the girls become concubines and "sex slaves." Any who manage to escape their captors find refuge, food, and medical care in a special center established by "World Vision," one of the world’s leading aid and development agencies.
Recent successes by Uganda government forces have weakened the L. R. A., and cooperation from the Sudanese authorities would allow troops of the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Force to cross their border and move against the rebel camps. This could result in loss of training camps and fields where their food supply is grown.
What the U. N. is doing in Uganda won’t help end the crisis. A solution requires political action. International mediation has been tried. The Jimmy Carter Foundation offered to come to Uganda, but the rebels refused. Other non-governmental organizations also tried with the same result.
The 52 countries comprising the African Union (Uganda is one) could be a factor if they choose to help. Their organization has the authority to intervene in affairs of member nations in cases of genocide or war crimes. They have a peacekeeping force. It is true, however, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has such troops on the ground to deal with similar circumstances; but rebel militia groups continue to kill civilians there. And very few Africans have forgotten the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when 800,000 were killed in 100 days with no international intervention. ("Genocide" is the systematic, planned elimination of a racial, political, or cultural group.)
L.R.A. leader Joseph Kony reportedly has converted to Islam and become a Muslim. He was previously a Christian fundamentalist. Seventeen years ago he was hoping to establish national rule based on the Ten Commandments.
The United Nations sent Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director of their World Food Program, on a tour of Uganda from March 13 to 19.
Kikwiyakare J. Moses of Uganda wrote about the situation in his country:
"We are in a very difficult situation in the war torn region of northern Uganda where children are the victims of all the problems here. Let me tell you about the worst atrocities that happened here recently (in February of this year).
These are the worst atrocities committed by the LRA rebels in
which more than 182 people were killed since December, 2003.The rebels attacked
the camps at the evening in the number about 210 and overpowered the whole camp
and started killing people like animals mostly babies and women, children etc. A
total of 182 civilians most of them babies, women and children were burnt in
huts to death by the rebels and all the huts in the camps were completely burnt
down. More than 50 civilians were critically injured and admitted to the Lira
hospital. Some 165 civilians were killed in the main camp and 15 at a nearby
borehole (well). 6 local militias guarding the camp who attempted to resist the attack
were also killed. A total of 15 other bodies were found at a borehole about 500
meters from the camp where most people were killed. Their bodies lay between
empty and filled jerrycans of water. Babies and women were burnt to ashes and
some were axed to death. The rebels stayed in the camps for about two hours.
Water containers, plates, cooking utensils, clothes, blankets etc were burnt.
People are left with nothing and are all homeless and sleeping in cold weather
and being beaten by the heat and heavy rain.
In Gulu town alone, the camps are always being attacked weekly by the rebels in which children and women who suffer the most. Children are being abducted by the rebels and killed. Huts are being burnt down, food looted and burnt. You can’t imagine all these. Since December last year, a total of 500 people were killed in the Gulu camps of Pabbo and Unyama, 600 children and women were abducted, and the camps were burnt to ashes.
The whole population is scared, and no one knows what will happen the next day. People have lost trust in the army and the government because they were forced out of their homes into protected camps by the government. Later, the government failed to protect them.
People right now are helpless since all their properties are burnt down and they are in urgent need of food, medicine, temporary shelters, blankets, cooking utensils, clothes etc.."
To learn more about the situation in Uganda and how you can help, please visit World Vision www.worldvision.org
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