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UNICEF Director Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Uganda - 2004-05-28

The chief of the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says Uganda faces a major humanitarian crisis, spawned by the long-running war with a northern rebel group. The UNICEF executive director, Carol Bellamy, has just toured northern Uganda.

Ms. Bellamy said the 18-year war in northern Uganda between government troops and a shadowy rebel group, called the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), has taken a turn for the worse, with a huge displacement of civilians.

"In the last year or so, the number of people displaced from their communities has risen dramatically," she said. "It's gone from about a half-a-million to over 1.6 million people, 80 percent of whom are women and children. It really is an emergency that seems not be getting global attention."

Ms. Bellamy said she urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to step up peace efforts, and she said the world community must help. "Peace has to come to this region. This fighting has gone on for so long," said Ms. Bellamy. "The Ugandan government has offered an amnesty. One hopes that the rebels will take advantage of it. At the same time, the global community needs to lend its voice, urging both the government of Uganda and the rebels to come to peaceful terms."

The UNICEF director said the Sudanese peace agreement signed this week may end up putting pressure on the Ugandan rebels to abandon safe-haven camps they maintain in southern Sudan. She said she was told a greater number of middle level LRA commanders are surrendering.

The rebel group has espoused various motives for its war, including the establishment of the biblical Ten Commandments as the law of the land in Uganda.

The LRA has been accused of massive human rights abuses, including the abduction of thousands of children forced into fighting, or used as sex slaves.

Ugandan officials and relief workers say that, over the past two weeks, the LRA has massacred at least 80 civilians, including many women and children, in raids on northern villages.