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US Concerned by Humanitarian Crisis in Northern Uganda

The U.S. State Department expressed renewed concern Friday over the humanitarian situation in northern Uganda, where terror tactics by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group have displaced nearly a million-and-a-half people. The United Nations calls the situation there one of the world's most neglected crises.

A written statement from State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is greatly concerned by the situation in northern Uganda, where the insurgency by the Lord's Resistance Army, the LRA, has terrorized the region for more than a decade.

Mr. Boucher said the United States is working closely with Uganda, other governments and international agencies to alleviate the suffering, and to bring what he termed the brutal rebellion by the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony, to a swift and permanent end.

The spokesman said U.S. officials have urged Ugandan authorities to redouble their efforts to protect the children and unarmed local population of the area.

The LRA has a quasi-religious ideology mixing Christianity and spiritualism, and reinforces its ranks by kidnapping and sexually-abusing children, an estimated 20,000 according to the United Nations.

At a New York news conference Thursday, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said the situation in northern Uganda constitutes one of the world's most-neglected and under-reported crises.

Mr. Egeland said tens of thousands of rural children, fearful of abduction at the hands of the LRA, trek each night to the relative safety of villages and hospital compounds.

He noted that the number of internally displaced people in northern Uganda is comparable to that of Sudan's western Darfur region, which U.N. officials have called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

In his statement, spokesman Boucher said the United States has been a principal source of humanitarian aid for victims of LRA attacks, this year alone providing more than $70 million worth of food and other assistance, including help for re-integrating former child soldiers and abducted persons into society.

He noted that the Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act, approved by the U.S. Congress in August, requires a State Department report to Congress next February detailing the causes of the conflict and sources of support for the LRA.

The LRA operates along the border between Uganda and Sudan and its members have reportedly used Sudanese territory as a refuge to escape Ugandan army operations.

The U.S. legislation says it is the sense of Congress that relations between the United States and Sudan cannot improve if there is credible evidence Sudanese authorities have provided weapons or other support to the LRA.

The Khartoum government denies helping the LRA, which the United States has listed as a terrorist organization since 2001.