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IDPs head back to safety of the camps

Women carrying water from a bore hole near Oromi IDP camp, in Kitgum District, northern Uganda, 16 May 2007. Women often leave the immediate confines of the camps to search for firewood, tend small gardens, collect water, or perform other domestic duties. Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
An ongoing military offensive against Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels by Ugandan, Congolese and Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) forces, has caused panic among war-weary civilians in northern Uganda, with some returning to camps for the displaced in fear of retaliatory attacks by the LRA.

The past two years have seen relative calm in northern Uganda, with peace talks between the government and the LRA prompting hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes in Gulu, Amuru, Pader and Kitgum districts of the Acholi sub-region.

Several residents told IRIN the anti-LRA offensive, which began on 14 December, could see the LRA retreat from bases in the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) back to the region, where they could resume attacks on civilians who have borne the brunt of the decades-old civil war.

At least two million people were displaced into IDP camps, thousands of children abducted and recruited into rebel ranks and thousands killed since the start of the LRA insurgency.

"I heard about the attack over Radio Mega [local radio station in Gulu]. The whole village is in fear that if the rebels cross back into Uganda, they will embark on abducting children and killing civilians,” Otto Lam of Amuru told IRIN.

"The military offensive was hurried; they should have waited even if [LRA leader Joseph] Kony failed to sign the final peace agreement; will the Ugandan army guarantee that the rebels will not cross back to northern Uganda?"

He said he would begin preparing his hut in the Amuru IDP camp in case of any eventuality.

Other families whose children were in LRA captivity in DRC expressed fear that they could be killed in the joint military offensive, aimed at forcing the rebels to sign a peace agreement with the government.

“It was heart-breaking to learn of the resumption of the LRA war because two of my children are still being held by the rebels in Congo. I am worried that they will be killed during the fighting,” Regina Otto of Koch Goma said. "Our hope was in the peace talks and even if it was going to take years, they should stick to it to save children and women still in rebel captivity."

16-year-old Alfred Lokolia from Lakuare village stands by Ugandan Defence Force soldiers at Oromi in Kitgum District, northern Uganda, 19 May 2007. Alfred was mutilated during an attack in his village by LRA rebels in 2004.
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A boy who was mutilated during a 2004 LRA attack stands next to UPDF soldiers in northern Uganda: An ongoing military offensive against the LRA has caused panic among civilians in the region
Seeking safety in camps

While former IDPs in Gulu and Amuru, who had settled in their villages, expressed fear, a number of IDPs along the borders of Kitgum and Southern Sudan in Palabek Gem and Palabek Ogili areas have returned to IDP camps.

“People fear that LRA rebels might sneak back to kill them. They are demanding assurance from the relevant authorities that they will not be affected by the renewed war against Kony,” Alfred Omony, a local leader in Palabek-Gem, said.

However, he could not put a figure on how many had returned, saying people were still moving their livestock and other property to the camps.

The resident district commissioner for Kitgum, Omony Ogaba, confirmed reports of IDPs moving back but assured the population there was no cause for alarm and that they should go home.

While the search for Kony continues, the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) has, in the past two days, been transporting military hardware from Gulu.

Ugandan Army spokesman for northern Uganda, Capt Ronald Kakurungulu, said there was no need to panic because the government would ensure the rebels did not cross back into the country.

"Our forces are monitoring the situation along the border and will act accordingly," he said.

[Uganda] Joseph Kony, leader of the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). [Date picture taken: May 2006]
Photo: The Daily Monitor
LRA leader Joseph Kony
The armies of Uganda, DRC and Southern Sudan launched the joint military operation after Kony failed to show up to sign a final peace agreement that has been negotiated since 2006 in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan.

The LRA rebels recently engaged in abducting children in Congo and Southern Sudan, attacking villages and looting properties, contributing to instability in the region.


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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