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UN: Ugandan Rebel Group Causing One of World's Worst Humanitarian Crises - 2004-04-14

The United Nations says a concerted campaign of atrocities by a Ugandan rebel group has created one of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies. A million and a half people in northern and eastern Uganda are said to have fled their homes and are living in fear. Most of the rebel soldiers, and their victims, are children.

The Security Council issued a statement Wednesday condemning what were called 'appalling atrocities carried out by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.

The statement was unanimously approved after U.N. Humanitarian Affairs and Relief coordinator Jan Egeland briefed the council on his recent trip to the region.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Egeland said the most terrible discovery of his visit had been how much of the war in Uganda is being fought by children, against children.

"Where else would there be 10,000 kidnapped children in the course of only 18 months who have been terrorized into becoming killing machines, terrorized into attacking their own villages, killing their own relatives, then to be told, you now have nowhere to go and no one to return to. Now, you are with us and we are the Lord's Resistance Army," he said.

Mr. Egeland said the LRA, as it is called, has no known political agenda, and is carrying out "unspeakable crimes", forcing kidnapped boys to kill and girls to work as sex slaves.

"I met one girl in a counseling center for LRA fighters who have escaped. This young girl told me about how she and other captives had been forced to take another child who had tried to escape and literally tear apart that child with their own teeth. This was one of their friends. The psychological trauma of these acts is incalculable," he said.

Mr. Egeland said fear of the LRA has led to what is known in Uganda as the 'night commuter phenomenon'. Each night 40,000 rural Ugandan children and mothers commute to the safety of nearby towns, often walking hours each way to avoid capture by LRA.

He said the number of displaced Ugandans has jumped from 500,000 a year and a half ago to 1.5 million today.

LRA leader Joseph Kony was quoted by news agencies this week as denying the allegations against his group. In an interview with a Kenyan-based magazine, Mr. Kony blamed Uganda's army for the atrocities.

Lord's Resistance Army rebels have been waging war on the Ugandan government since 1987. They say their goal is to replace President Yoweri Museveni's government with one based on the Bible's Ten Commandments.

The highest-ranking U.S. military official in sub-Saharan Africa said this month that Washington sees Mr. Kony as a threat. In an interview with VOA, General Charles Wald denounced the LRA's practice of kidnapping children, and said Mr. Kony deserves to be either killed or captured.