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Relief agency renews call for international intervention in the north

Map of Uganda IRIN
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The international community and the Ugandan government should take urgent action for an immediate and peaceful resolution of the war in the north in order to stop a "grave humanitarian crisis", an international humanitarian agency announced on Monday. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported that as many as 1,000 people in northern Uganda are dying each week from violence and war-related problems. Northern Ugandans will continue to die unnecessarily and endure unimaginable human suffering until current efforts to resolve the crisis are intensified, and more resources to sustain the ailing population are increased," the agency said in a statement. The IRC called on all parties in the conflict to "work seriously toward a negotiated and sustainable peace settlement and national reconciliation [and to] protect civilians, ensure that their rights are respected and adhere to International Humanitarian law and Ugandan law." The organisation also asked the international community to prioritise funding immediately for what it called "an increase in the quality and quantity of lifesaving humanitarian actions aimed at the achievement of minimum humanitarian standards in northern Uganda." Ciarán Donnelly, the head of the IRC in Uganda, explained that the minimum standards being sought include access to health facilities, sufficient staffing at health centres and enough safe water – 15 litres per person per day -- for the displaced. In some areas, water access is a paltry five litres per person per day. The agency called on the donor community to "incessantly pressure" the Ugandan authorities and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) "to commit to meaningful and good faith engagement in the peace process." This call comes at a crucial time: Mediators announced over the weekend that they had resumed regular contact with LRA leader Joseph Kony, a feat that may breathe life into the stalled peace process aimed at ending nearly two decades of fighting. Former Ugandan cabinet minister Betty Bigombe, who is brokering peace between the Ugandan government and the LRA, said in a statement that both sides had expressed willingness to resume the process that had collapsed on 31 December. Since 31 December, when undisclosed last-minute hitches derailed the signing of a ceasefire and effectively halted the peace process, mediators and church leaders have been trying to lure the rebels back to peace talks amid a surge in violence. "The direct involvement of Kony is critical to the peace process and the resumption of direct contact represents a new state of dialogue process with the LRA," Bigombe said. Diplomats also maintained that the situation could only be changed if the parties to the conflict embraced dialogue that would allow the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). "The situation will only improve if people can return to their villages. The window for talks is still there," Yoka Brandt, Netherlands ambassador to Uganda, said in an address at a World Food Programme ceremony in Kampala on Friday. "I am personally hopeful that this time there will be a solution to this problem," said Carlos Rodriguez, a Roman Catholic priest who had made several failed attempts to end the war. The IRC called on both sides to guarantee unencumbered humanitarian access to all war-affected communities in the north so that lifesaving services can continue. The agency also asked authorities to vastly improve conditions, particularly overcrowding, in IDP camps and to support the eventual voluntary return of the displaced to their villages. Christine Amongin, Uganda’s minister for disaster preparedness, explained that the government had embarked on a programme to decongest the camps. She said that Pabbo, which houses 64,000 people and is one of the oldest camps, is the first to be slated for improvements. There have been fires and disease outbreaks at the facility as a result of overcrowding. More than 1.6 million people who have been displaced by the conflict live in “deplorable and crowded” camps in northern Uganda. Eighty percent of them are women and children. When the LRA took over leadership of the rebellion in northern Uganda in 1988, it vowed to replace the government of President Yoweri Museveni with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments. The group, however, is best known for atrocities against civilians and children, many of whom have been abducted to work as porters, soldiers and sex slaves.
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