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UN Warns of Uganda Humanitarian Crisis - 2003-11-11

A top U.N. humanitarian official warns the world can no longer ignore the long-running civil war in northern Uganda, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

"I consider northern Uganda to be the biggest forgotten and neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told reporters. Mr. Egeland said that during his two-day stay in the north, he heard reports of Lord's Resistance Army rebels abducting children and forcing them to kill even their own family members. He says many children are also forced to become sex slaves and assist the rebels in other ways.

He recalls how he spent the evening with thousands of children in the northern town of Kitgum who had gathered in the town for the night because they were afraid of being abducted from home.

The United Nations says the war has displaced more than 1.3 million people and claimed tens of thousands of lives since it began more than a decade ago.

"I was shocked," he said. "It was a moral outrage what has happened, and is happening, as we speak, in northern Uganda."

The brutal Lord's Resistance Army has been attacking civilian populations in the north for about 16 years. Its leader, Joseph Kony, calls himself a prophet and once declared he wanted to form a society based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

During Mr. Egeland's four-day visit to Uganda, he met with Ugandan government officials, church leaders, children who had been abducted by the rebels, and relief workers. He says the United Nations, international donors, aid agencies and the Ugandan government have done too little about the suffering in the north.

Mr. Egeland says the plight of Uganda's people will be highlighted in U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's November 18 fundraising appeal for humanitarian work in Uganda, Congo, Burundi, Sudan, and other countries.

Several U.N. agencies, including UNICEF and the Food and Agricultural Organization, are expected to increase their presence in northern Uganda, provided the government is able to provide adequate security.

Mr. Egeland is now on his way to Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an area in which an estimated 3.5 million people are on the run from ethnic violence and other violence. He says this represents the largest population of internally displaced people in the world today.