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Aid Workers: Violence in Sudan, Uganda Makes Delivering Aid Difficult - 2004-06-15


Aid workers in Uganda and Sudan say random rebel attacks and unwieldy bureaucracy make it difficult to reach civilians in war-torn regions. The United Nations is warning that at least 10 million people in war zones worldwide are denied access to basic aid.

A program manager at the international aid agency World Vision, James Otim, told VOA he and his colleagues in Uganda risk being shot by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group every time they drive to certain areas in the north.

"They are highly mobile and hence very unpredictable," he noted. "They also do not observe internationally accepted rules of war. They do not respect humanitarian agencies. They do not respect unarmed civilians. They ambush vehicles on the roads and burn the vehicles and kill the passengers."

Mr. Otim says he knows of at least one World Vision colleague who was killed on the way to providing assistance in northern Uganda.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been indiscriminately attacking people in northern Uganda for the past 18 years. Its leader, Joseph Kony, once said he and his group want to rule Uganda according to the Biblical Ten Commandments.

In three districts in the north, more than 1.5 million people live in guarded camps designed to protect them from rebel attacks.

In one of those districts, called Gulu, Mr. Otim says aid workers can reach only 20 of 33 camps because of the lack of security. He says people in the areas that cannot be reached are in especially desperate need of food, because the violence prevents them from growing their own.

Meanwhile, in the Darfur region in western Sudan, aid workers trying to reach an estimated 1.2 million displaced civilians are also vulnerable to random attacks.

World Food Program spokesman Marcus Prior says the area is highly volatile, despite the fact that the Sudanese government and the two main rebel groups operating there signed a cease-fire in April to stop more than a year of fighting.

"There are other bodies which remain outside of the cease-fire, militias which continue to cause problems, to mount attacks outside of the terms of the cease-fire," he said. "And that makes the lives of humanitarian operators and the ability of humanitarian workers in the field in Darfur extremely difficult."

Mr. Prior says his agency knows of 124 camps in Darfur that house people displaced by the fighting. He says his agency can get to only 94 camps and is worried about many other civilians who are hiding in the mountains beyond the reach of aid programs.

Mr. Prior says it is much easier for aid workers to get into Darfur following the cease-fire signing. He adds that there remains, what he calls, an unfortunate and, at times, obstructive levels of bureaucracy, especially for aid workers to get travel permits into Darfur.

Monday, U.N. Undersecretary General Jan Egeland told the Security Council that about 10 million people caught in 20 conflicts around the world are denied basic aid because fighting, bureaucracy and lack of funds prevent aid workers from delivering assistance to them.

He listed Uganda and Sudan as two of nine countries most affected by conflicts. Mr. Egeland called the Darfur situation the world's worst conflict.

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