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WFP Cuts Rations in Northern Uganda

The World Food Program, WFP, says it has been forced to drastically cut food rations for 1.5 million people in northern Uganda, because it has run out of cash. WFP says this life-saving program will have to stop by the end of May unless donors urgently provide more money. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The World Food Program says it has had to slash food rations by 60 percent for 1.5 million displaced people and refugees in northern Uganda. The agency says it has to do this, because it is running a $75 million shortfall from the $130 million appeal it launched earlier this year to help people displaced by years of fighting between government forces and rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says she believes donors are under the mistaken impression that since the two sides agreed to a truce last year, the situation in northern Uganda has stabilized enough for people to leave their camps and go back home. While Berthiaume says the situation has improved somewhat in northern Uganda, it is by no means safe.

"But we still need to be escorted," she explained. "So, peace is not fully back in full swing in the northern part of the country. People are afraid. People do not want to leave the camp. Women do not want to bring back their children to the villages, because they are afraid of kidnappings. There have been so many children kidnapped by the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] in this part of the country. And I think it is quite understandable that mothers are afraid and want to feel more secure before going back home."

The Lord's Resistance Army fought the government of Uganda for two decades. During that time, the LRA kidnapped more than 10,000 children, massacred civilians, mutilated victims and forced hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their homes and seek refuge in camps.

When the rebels and government agreed on a truce, there was hope that it would lead to lasting peace. But that hope diminished after the rebels' top commanders were indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court. The commanders went into hiding and now peace seems to be a distant prospect.

WFP's Berthiaume says even if people wanted to go back home, they have little to go back to.

"The villages have been destroyed," she added. "Their lands are in ruins. They do not have any tools. They do not have any seeds."

Berthiaume says it will take at least two to three harvests before many Ugandans will be able to produce enough food to feed themselves. Until then, she says, food assistance is essential.