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UN Moves Swiftly to Relocate Uganda Refugees - 2002-08-09

The United Nations refugee agency says it is urgently trying to relocate thousands of Sudanese refugees from a camp in northern Uganda following a deadly rebel raid earlier this week. The UNHCR says the attack, by the Lord's Resistance Army, left at least 55 dead, including 38 refugees.

UNHCR says the only way to insure the safety of some 24,000 Sudanese refugees and displaced Ugandans in Northern Uganda is to move them further south inside the country. On Monday, members of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army attacked a U.N.-run refugee camp in Acholi-Pii, some 300 kilometers north of Kampala.

For more than a decade, the Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, has fought Uganda's secular government with the aim of replacing it with a system based on the biblical Ten Commandments. The rebels intensified their campaign in May after a lull of almost two years.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says persistent rumors of more LRA attacks in the area have prompted the refugee agency to move people out as quickly as possible.

"We are in a race against time really in Uganda to bring people from the danger zone in the north of the country to safer areas," he said.

Mr. Janowski said the refugee agency is trucking people to Kiryondongo, an area believed to be out of reach of the rebels.

"The trucking operation is now in full swing. In less than 24 hours, 40 truckloads have moved 4,000 people out of Lira to a place called Kiryondongo, where they will be safer than in Lira," he explained. "We expect that three-quarters of the 22,000 refugees that have reached Lira will be transported to the new site by the end of the day today."

Some 155,000 Sudanese live in northern Uganda, having fled almost two decades of civil war in southern Sudan. A half-million Ugandans also are internally displaced because of the LRA attacks. The rebel group is known for kidnapping children, turning boys into fighters and the girls into sex slaves. They have reportedly killed, mutilated and abducted scores of people since stepping up their attacks in May.