Ugandan Religious Leaders Press for World's Help

To Put an End to Rebel Attacks Against Civilians

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KAMPALA, Uganda, MARCH 8, 2004 ( Religious leaders of the Acholi, Lango and Teso ethnic groups appealed to Uganda’s government to declare the north a disaster zone and to ask for international help to end the fighting.

The appeal was expressed in a declaration issued at the conclusion of a meeting of some 20 religious leaders last Tuesday in the capital, Kampala.

The rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has wreaked havoc in the northern regions of Uganda for years.

LRA-led massacres in the refugee camps of Abia on Feb. 4 and Barlonyo on Feb. 22, which left some 300 dead, «are crimes that cry out to God,» says the document sent to the Missionary Service News Agency.

In its struggle against the Ugandan government since 1986, the LRA — directed by Sudanese-backed Joseph Kony, a self-styled visionary — has been attacking civilians. The death toll is estimated at more than 120,000, and more than 25,000 children have been kidnapped and forced into slavery or military actions.

In their appeal, the religious leaders stress the «intolerable and dehumanizing situation of almost 2 million displaced persons that needs to be urgently addressed,» as their camps are «inadequately protected» by the Ugandan army.

The camps «have become breeding grounds for abject poverty, breakdown of cultural and moral values, quick spread of HIV/AIDS, and many other evils,» says the text, whose signers include Catholic Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, president of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative.

«To end this cycle of violence, we still favor the use of peaceful dialogue, with a third-party mediation, as the best means to end the suffering,» they continue.

The declaration also urges the communities to «live in peace and good neighborliness, and to desist from any action that may lead to intertribal tensions.» Tensions between the Lango and Acholi have risen in recent weeks.

The Acholi are accused of supporting the LRA rebels, most of whom belong to this ethnic group. In fact, it is a problem of Acholi youths, who for more than 15 years have been kidnapped by militiamen, enrolled as child-soldiers, and forced to kill their own people.

Following recent massacres of refugees in the northern district of Lira, the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) called for the intervention of the international community to guarantee a peaceful solution to the conflict.

In a note received by ZENIT, the UJCC refers to the massacre in Abia and the subsequent attack in Barlonyo, and notes that after the first killing «the government assured the people that a similar incident would not happen again.»

The noted was signed by the UJCC’s president, Orthodox Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga; its vice president, Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala of Kampala; and its second vice president, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda.

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