Uganda Can't Heal Itself, Says Vatican Official

Cardinal Martino Urges International Aid

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ROME, JUNE 14, 2004 ( Uganda needs the help of the international community to emerge from the crisis engulfing it, says a Vatican official.

According to Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, three decisive actions can be taken to help the African country. «Bring the armed confrontations to an end,» he said. «Cancel the foreign debt; … [and] give concrete support to development projects.»

Cardinal Martino visited Uganda, including war zones such as Gulu, Kalongo and Kitgum, at the beginning of June.

The region is in crisis. Rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been fighting the Ugandan government in a bid to establish a state based on the observance of alleged «biblical» concepts.

LRA rebels have also attacked the civilian population in the districts of northern Uganda. Last Tuesday, at least 41 civilians, including children, died at the hands of the rebels in the Aboke refugee camp. Some 500 huts were set ablaze in this camp, which shelters 12,000 displaced people.

Since 1986, the LRA rebels, led by Joseph Kony — a self-styled visionary backed by Sudan — have tortured and killed an estimated 120,000 people and kidnapped more than 25,000 children and forced them into slavery or combat.

«As is known, until now there are those who from the outside have stoked the fire and supported the rebels’ action,» Cardinal Martino said in statements on Vatican Radio.

«Now it seems that such support is diminishing and there is the hope of a change in this drama, which has lasted too long and has too many victims,» he added.

The «indelible» image the cardinal brought back from Uganda is of «multitudes exhausted by 18 years of war, abysmal underdevelopment, and serious illnesses.»

«For the rest of my life, I will not be able to forget the refugee camps, the homeless masses, especially the children threatened and always in danger of being kidnapped and turned into child-soldiers,» the Vatican official lamented.

«But at the same time I have been impressed by the great dignity of these poor people; their desire to come out of this inhuman situation,» he said.

Commenting on the missionaries, Cardinal Martino said they were «wonderful people who give themselves totally, risking their lives every day, without any other return than that indicated by Jesus: ‘There is more joy in giving than in receiving. … There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends.'»

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