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UNHCR Moves Refugees in Uganda to New Camp, Following Rebel Attack - 2002-08-16

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is sending a team to Uganda to coordinate the transfer of 20,000 Sudanese refugees and internally displaced Ugandans to a new camp. The refugees were dispersed last week by a rebel attack on their camp in northern Uganda, and were relocated to an interim facility in central Uganda, until the new site is ready.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said it will take a fleet of trucks nearly one week to transfer so many people to a new camp in Kyangwali, near the shores of Lake Albert. He said that camp is further inside Uganda, out of rebel reach. "We are sending a four-person emergency team to Uganda to handle the transfer of people dispersed by the attack on Acholi-Pii on Monday last week to their final destination, their final site on the shores of Lake Albert," he said. "We know now from various sources that 60 Sudanese refugees and many local villagers were massacred in the attack on Achol-Pii, so the toll is higher than we originally expected."

The Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, has threatened more attacks on any refugees or aid workers in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. The rebels say they are fighting to overthrow Uganda's government and replace the country's constitution with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

Mr. Janowski denied that the refugee transfer is related to the rebel ultimatum. He said the UNHCR is moving the people because they are not safe in northern Uganda.

Meanwhile, the U.N. World Food Program says it is using Ugandan military escorts to protect its trucks delivering about 500 tons of food daily to half a million people in the most dangerous areas, like Kitgum, about 340 kilometers north of Kampala. WFP spokesperson Christiane Bertiaume said the agency has no other choice. "People are scared," she said. "They are in camps. We have people on the ground who have told us that there are high malnutrition rates among the kids, and especially among the kids that have been abducted and now they are released. They are now in a center where we feed them. These children are really in very bad shape."

Ms. Bertiaume said WFP has urged the Lord's Resistance Army to allow its trucks to move freely and to allow villagers to harvest their crops.

WFP has distributed more than 2,000 tons of food in the region in the past three weeks. It says people will continue to need help until the end of September, and longer, if fighting prevents the harvesting of crops.