Uganda's Religious Leaders Beg for U.N. Aid

Situation «Worse Than in Iraq,» Says Official

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GULU, Uganda, NOV. 11, 2003 ( Northern Uganda needs help from the United Nations — desperately.

That is the message of the leaders of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative — an interreligious organization that looks to help the northern villages inhabited by the Acholi ethnic group — sent to Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.

«The humanitarian situation in northern Uganda is worse than in Iraq or anywhere else in the world,» Egeland said.

At the end of a visit last weekend to the war-racked region, the U.N. official pledged to «more than triple» humanitarian assistance to the troubled districts, which he described as «one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.»

The United Nations estimates that thousands of civilians have been killed and some 1.2 million people have been displaced by LRA activity in the north — activity which includes attacking and looting villages, abducting scores of children to carry loot and forcibly recruit into their ranks, ambushing vehicles, and destroying trading centers.

Speaking to IRIN, the U.N. press agency for Africa, while on his two-day tour of the region, Egeland promised he would do everything in his power to get northern Uganda onto the international agenda.

«It is a moral outrage» that the world is doing so little for the victims of the war, especially children, he said.

Rebels routinely abduct children to serve as sex slaves and fighters. Thousands of children leave their houses in northern Uganda to sleep rough in the major towns, where they feel safer from the threat of abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

On Sunday in Gulu, main city in the north of the country, Egeland met with religious leaders of the Acholi religious leaders group, or ARLPI.

Earlier, ARLPI leaders from the area urged the United Nations to intervene in the conflict, affirming that the «people in northern Uganda have the feeling that they have been abandoned and betrayed by the international community. The U.N. in particular is not doing enough to put an end to this war,» a document published by Missionary Service News Agency stated.

The crisis in northern Uganda worsened considerably around July 2002, when the Ugandan government, following an agreement with the government of Sudan, launched Operation Iron Fist to destroy LRA bases in southern Sudan. The rebels were forced to abandon their bases and flooded back into Uganda.

Humanitarian organizations say that the rebels have abducted about 20,000 children over the last five years and taken many to LRA bases in southern Sudan.

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