An appeal for assistance for hundreds of thousands of people affected by conflict in northern Uganda is to be launched later this month, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, said on Tuesday.
Speaking in Nairobi following a two-day visit to northern Uganda, Egeland said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) planned to launch the appeal on 19 November, when it would urge donors to increase funding for humanitarian aid.
"This is not a war in which the population is affected by the collateral damage. It is a war which is directed against the civilian population and children," Egeland said. "How can we live with a situation where nearly 1,000 children are being abducted every month to become killing machines."
Egeland, who described the situation in northern Uganda as the "world's biggest, neglected, ignored" humanitarian crisis, also lamented the lack of humanitarian access for the displaced population, which he said had reached 1.3 million. He pledged to help increase the humanitarian presence of UNOCHA and other UN agencies in the region.
The situation in northern Uganda, where rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have been fighting the Ugandan government for 17 years, worsened considerably around July 2002, when the Ugandan authorities, in cooperation with the government of Sudan, launched an operation to destroy LRA bases in southern Sudan. LRA tactics include attacking and looting villages, abducting children to carry loot and forcibly recruiting them into their ranks.
During his visit to the northern town of Gulu, Egeland and his team visited a child rehabilitation centre run by World Vision, where they spoke to former LRA victims. The UN representatives were visibly moved as they listened to 13-year-old Patrick Komakech relate how he was abducted by the rebels and forced to fight alongside them, and how he was eventually recovered by the Ugandan army after an ambush against his company in which he sustained three bullet wounds in the leg.
Patrick described to the delegation how he was forced to kill one of his commander's bodyguards and sit on the body before cutting up victims of an LRA assault and putting them in a large cooking pot.
In Gulu, Egeland also met representatives of the Acholi Religious Leader's Peace Initiative (ARLPI), who requested a more active UN involvement in peace building in northern Uganda. Speaking to IRIN on Sunday, Egeland said he had explained to the representatives that while he had mediated in conflicts in the past, his mandate was purely humanitarian.
"We can certainly assist in the peace process with things like demobilisation, but I don't see us [UNOCHA} mediating. We don't have a mandate to mediate and neither side has even asked us to," he said.
In an interview with IRIN in the town of Kitgum on Saturday, ARLPI member father Joseph Gerner of Kitgum mission, which houses hundreds of displaced children each night, spoke of the desparate situation. "These children are terrified. [LRA leader Joseph] Kony is still abducting and looting and killing in Kitgum and no one can seem to stop this. To suggest that the government can end the crisis militarily is simply untrue," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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