Belgium has offered to construct a boarding primary school in northern Uganda for former child abductees of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels currently receiving counselling to overcome the trauma suffered in captivity.
The Belgian ambassador to Uganda, Koenraad Adam, told IRIN in the capital, Kampala, on Tuesday that his government had earmarked US $2.4 million for the project, to be physically sited in the town of Gulu, 360 km north of Kampala. A provision had also been made whereby the children would also receive further counselling, he added.
"The school will cater for at least 750 children and will be situated at Laroo sub-county, Gulu Municipality. It will offer primary education to the children, mainly orphans and those formerly abducted by the rebels," said Adam, who had just returned from a visit to the region where he inspected the site of the proposed school.
The LRA, which has fought the Ugandan government for 18 years, frequently attacks villages and trading centres, murdering or torturing civilians and abducting children for forcible recruitment as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), estimates that at least 12,000 children have been thus abducted over the last two years.
The army has rescued a number of the abducted children, who are currently undergoing rehabilitation at counselling centres in the region. However, staff at the centres say the overwhelming numbers of children have stretched their resources to breaking point.
Adam said his government was already supporting one such facility, the Rachele Rehabilitation Centre. It is run by Belgian journalist and author Els De Temmerman in the town of Lira, east of Gulu, with the support of UNICEF. "We also intend to see what we can offer for the appeal for food by the Ugandan government and WFP [UN World Food Programme]," he added.
While in Gulu, Adam visited people who leave their homes every evening and walk to sleep at Lacor missionary hospital for fear of being abducted by the LRA. There are about 40,000 such people in the region, mostly mothers and their children, who have become known as "night commuters". Every evening they take refuge in major towns, sleeping outside hospitals and community centres.
An estimated 1.6 million people have been displaced from their homes, 80 percent of them women and children, by the ongoing conflict.