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UNHCR: Thousands of Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda Flee for Safety - 2004-04-30

The United Nations refugee agency says more than 25,000 Sudanese refugees have fled their settlements in northern Uganda in the aftermath of a series of attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in recent weeks. The agency says the attacks took place around the Adjumani district.

The agency says U.N. aid workers are trying to track down the people who fled their settlements. UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler says refugee leaders say up to 80 percent of the 32,000 refugees that lived there have fled for the safety of refugee settlements 30 kilometers to the north. Mr. Kessler says the rebels are accused of beatings, rapes and stealing food and medicine supplies.

?It has been a very shocking situation,? he said. ?The local population and the refugees are so fearful, they often try to get out of there before the rebels arrive, which is why we have seen such a tremendous upsurge in displacement in Northern Uganda.?

Over the years, an estimated 1.5 million Ugandans living in the region have been displaced from their home villages. The Lord's Resistance Army aims to overthrow the Ugandan government. It has murdered many people and created general havoc and has gained notoriety for kidnapping thousands of children, enslaving them and forcing them to commit atrocities.

Mr. Kessler says the Sudanese refugees who fled their settlements are among a group of 173,000 Sudanese who fled from war in their country about 13 years ago. They were given plots of land and help in setting up small farms. However, by fleeing this new danger new problems will be created.

?It means that the crops that these refugees initially planted will not get tended, that they will not be harvested, that people will get hungrier and hungrier,? Mr. Kessler said. ?To set up a new logistical pipeline to deliver aid for this region is a major challenge. This is deep in northern Uganda. The food must come all the way from the Kenyan coast, thousands of kilometers away.?

Mr. Kessler says the Ugandan Army has sent four battalions to restore order to the Adjumani region and, perhaps, enable the displaced refugees to return.