Northern Uganda improving but still faces problems – UN humanitarian chief

15 May 2007Meeting with local authorities and aid workers in northern Uganda, the United Nations humanitarian chief warned today that the region still faces serious problems despite the recently improved security situation. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes spent much of the day in Kitgum district, where about 260,000 IDPs are living in 23 settlements because of the 21-year conflict between Government forces and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).He visited the new settlement site of Labworomor, where many IDPs have gathered recently.During meetings with local authorities in Kitgum, Mr. Holmes stressed that problems remain in the north despite the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement last year by the two sides.Peace talks between the Government and the LRA resumed at the weekend in Juba, southern Sudan, but Mr. Holmes – who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator – said the international community must continue its support to the recovery process and to locals as they try to return to their former homes.“We will continue to help in camps for the displaced and in settlement sites, and, with the Government of Uganda, we will help with resettlement and reconstruction,” he said. “We know it will be a long and often difficult process. There is an awful lot still to do and an awful lot still needed.”Thousands of people have been killed and an estimated 1.5 million others have become displaced in Uganda or in neighbouring countries since the LRA insurgency began in 1986. During that time, the rebel group has become notorious for abducting children and then using them as soldiers or porters, while subjecting some to torture and allocating many girls to senior officers in a form of institutional rape.In October 2005 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first-ever arrest warrants against Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, and four of the group’s commanders – Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya – on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.Tonight Mr. Holmes is scheduled to visit an IDP camp at Namokora that is also home to numerous ex-combatants in the conflict, and he is expected to hold talks there with aid workers, elders, and women and children who had been previously abducted.Earlier today in Kampala, the national capital, the Under-Secretary-General met Ugandan Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi and the Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Tarsisi Kabwegyere. Yesterday he held what he described as “a lively exchange” with President Yoweri Museveni.Mr. Holmes said it was important to have a “triple effort” from the humanitarian community: providing aid to those living in IDP camps, helping those who are in the process of returning home; and supplying recovery aid for those who have already returned. read more