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Relief agencies cut back operations following suspected rebel attacks

[Uganda] Children in northern Uganda's Alero camp west of Gulu
1 June 2003
Refugee children in northern Uganda (IRIN)

Relief agencies working in northern Uganda have curtailed their operations following the recent attacks on aid workers by suspected Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Uganda, Stephen Lukudu, said agencies had suspended all non-essential field missions as precautionary measure until the situation was reviewed.

"All staff have been called back to towns, pending another security meeting that is going to take place on 31 October," Lukudu added.

Various relief agencies had also decided to limit their work to towns and protected camps for internally displaced people. These included Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontiers-Holland (MSF-Holland) and Christian Children's Fund (CCF).

However, President Yoweri Museveni, whose government has been fighting the LRA for nearly two decades, urged humanitarian workers not to "panic", saying the insurgency was almost ended.

"We are going to handle those robbers," Museveni told reporters at a news conference in the capital, Kampala, on Thursday. "Those (LRA) are very small groups, they are more or less like robbers."

Two aid workers were killed and four injured in three separate attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday on vehicles belonging to the Catholic charity, Caritas, and the British NGO, ACORD. Two of the injured worked for CCF.

"We have not withdrawn, but we have reduced the movement of both international and local staff," MSF-Holland Country Director in Uganda, Christine Schmitz, said.

Emma Naylor, Oxfam Country Programme Manager, told IRIN that despite the indictments of five LRA leaders by the International Criminal Court earlier this month, and claims by the government that the end of the war was in sight, safety and security in the region had remained "a distant dream".

"We are not moving outside towns. Like other agencies, we have reduced our field operations. We are assessing the security situation on a daily basis," Naylor said. "The government needs to take concrete action, but right now, we do not see that action on the ground."

She added: "We are very worried because the government of Uganda has been pursuing a so-called military solution whose side effect is that the people who have actually suffered as a result of the war are not getting properly protected.

"And the attacks of the last few days are unfortunate evidence that aid workers and civilians in northern Uganda are not safe."

On Thursday, the UN's emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland condemned the attacks as "vicious" and "unconscionable" and said they further threatened civilians in the strife-torn region.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced in northern Uganda since the LRA started fighting in 1998. The LRA has been accused of massive abuses of civilians including murder, mutilations and the abductions of at least 20,000 children.

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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