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Top UN Human Rights Chief Tours Northern Uganda


The United Nations top human rights official is on a weeklong visit to Uganda to see first hand the devastation after nearly two decades of civil war in the country's north.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour arrived Saturday in Uganda and immediately flew north to see the human impact of the rebellion launched by the Lord's Resistance Army.

Relief groups estimate 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict, many of them civilians now living in crowded and squalid camps.

Arbour has visited Gulu and Karamoja, in the area affected by the conflict.

"She did tour the camps," said Jose Luiz Diaz, the spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "For example, on Monday she went to the Pabo IDP camp, where there is a major problem of internal displacement. And she met with both residents of the camp and with people working with them as well as with local authorities who are trying to provide protection there."

Diaz says Arbour is trying to find concrete ways, such as setting up regional U.N. human rights offices, to help alleviate civilian suffering. The spokesman said she has secured a deal to help ensure that civilians caught up in the conflict are safe.

"On Monday in Gulu, the High Commissioner signed an agreement with the government of Uganda to strengthen our presence in the country and especially in the north of the country, in order to assist in providing protection to civilians and to monitoring the human rights situation," he added. "And also to help the authorities in strengthening their own capacity to protect human rights."

This is the first trip to the area by a high commissioner for human rights. It includes meetings with senior government officials and talks with civil society groups and traditional leaders.

Isolated attacks by suspected rebels continue in the region, the most recent just one day after Arbour's visit began.

Ugandan rebels are notoriously brutal - targeting civilians, raiding refugee camps and abducting children for use as sex slaves and child soldiers. They are also suspected of deadly ambushes against aid workers in the region, forcing agencies like the British charity, Oxfam, to suspend operations periodically.

Human rights activists have also accused Uganda army troops of committing serious abuses against civilians during the conflict.

Last year, the International Criminal Court in the Hague issued its first arrest warrants for alleged war crimes against five top rebel members, among them Joseph Kony.

Attempts by religious intermediaries to get peace talks on track and secure a lasting truce in Uganda have failed.

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