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Instability in Uganda Creates Difficulty for Aid Workers - 2002-08-12

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) says more than three-quarters of a million people in northern Uganda are entirely dependent on international food aid. But WFP says insecurity in the region is making it increasingly difficult to deliver the needed food.

The WFP says northern Uganda has become a war zone. Since April, the rebel Lord's Resistance Army has intensified attacks in the area. WFP says this has caused more than a half-million people from the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader to flee and seek refuge in camps for displaced people.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume describes conditions in these camps as appalling. She says many people have left the camps and gone to live in compounds surrounding hospitals and other institutions in the town of Gulu.

"As of June, WFP is trying to help almost three-quarter of a million people displaced and refugees. But the conditions are very bad and very dangerous," Ms. Berthiaume said. "We are trying to reach those people as often as we can, but the only way for us to reach them is under very heavy military escort."

The World Food Program says it is also helping particularly vulnerable people. They include children who were abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army and managed to escape, people with tuberculosis and school children. The rebel group was formed in 1987 with the aim of overthrowing the Ugandan government and replacing it with a government based on the 10 commandments. Over the years, the rebels have mounted raids in northern Uganda and kidnapped thousands of children to use as child soldiers and sex slaves.

Ms. Berthiaume says people in the area used to cultivate small gardens to supplement their meager diets.

"But right now the situation is so tense that people do not dare get out of their camp or their settlements to go and harvest their garden," she said.

Because of these fears, Ms. Berthiaume says it is likely that all the crops these people planted will be lost.