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British Charity Urges Uganda to Protect Civilians Living in the North

May 11, 2004
Cathy Majtenyi • Wednesday May 12, 2004

A British charity is urging the Ugandan government to protect people living in northern Uganda from attacks by a rebel group operating there. The agency also calls for the government to use dialogue, rather than military force, to end the conflict.

A spokeswoman in Uganda for the group Christian Aid, Judith Melby, says the Ugandan government has provided inadequate protection from attacks by rebels belonging to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

They’re not protected at all, she said. They’re prime targets for the LRA to loot and to abduct children. That’s the key failing of the Museveni government, that they’re not protecting their own civilians.

The Lord’s Resistance Army has been killing, mutilating, looting and kidnapping people living in northern Uganda for the past 18 years. It’s leader, Joseph Kony, once said his group wanted to rule Uganda according to the biblical Ten Commandments, but their motives for fighting remain unclear.

In response, the government has set up so-called protected villages, settlements across the north that are supposed to be guarded by soldiers or local militias, but Ms. Melby says this and other measures have failed.

In recent months, LRA rebels have struck some protected villages, the most brutal case occurred in February when rebels killed more than 200 residents.

Ms. Melby said that the Ugandan government would do better in ending the LRA’s insurgency if it used negotiations rather than military means. Given that in the last 18 years they haven’t defeated them militarily it’s highly unlikely they’re going to defeat them militarily and they’re also fighting them in a very conventional way, she added.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts by the government and the rebel group to hold peace talks, with each side accusing the other of political sabotage and ill will. However, presidential spokesman Francis Onapito Ekomoloit says President Yoweri Museveni is personally committed to negotiating with the rebel leaders.

The latest statement by the president, which was circulated after UN Security Council was very categorical, he noted. He said, I’m ready to meet with the terrorists either directly or through a third party if that’s the best way to end atrocities they are committing against innocent people. But the LRA did not respond.

In a previous interview, Mr. Ekomoloit said the Ugandan government has taken many measures to protect people and that there is now security and calm in the north.

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