MAY 2, 2010: UN Relief Chief Speaks Out Against Ugandan Rebel Violence

UN Relief Chief Speaks Out Against Ugandan Rebel Violence
The top United Nations humanitarian official today condemned the "horrific" atrocities committed by a notorious Uganda rebel group in the volatile northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes spoke out against the violence on a visit to Niangara, an area in Orientale Province near the DRC's border with Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).

It was the scene of one of the worst recent massacres carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which terrorized northern Uganda for two decades before spilling over into neighbouring countries and has been accused of committing atrocities including mutilations and the recruitment of child soldiers.

During the attack last December, more than 300 civilians were reportedly killed and some 250 - including at least 80 children - were kidnapped.

Since late 2007, roughly 1,800 civilians are thought to have been killed by the LRA and 2,400 abducted throughout the province.

In Niangara today, Mr. Holmes heard first-hand accounts from survivors, including one woman whose lips and ear had been torn off two days ago in a typically barbaric and inexplicable attack.

"This is unacceptable. We need a rapid solution to what has become a regional crisis," he emphasized.

In meetings with authorities and humanitarian workers in the area, the official voiced concern that the possible drawdown of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known as MONUC, could have negative effects on the protection of civilians and on humanitarian access.

"MONUC is a deterrent for the LRA, and its presence is also essential to humanitarian operations in this province," he stated. "I am concerned that their departure could increase the suffering of civilians, and reduce our ability to help them."

Seven UN agencies and 23 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) carry out humanitarian work in Orientale Province's Haut-Uele and Bas-Uele districts, combined are home to at least 320,000 persons uprooted by LRA-related violence.

Due to the ongoing threat posed by the group's presence, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have little prospects of returning home in the near future.

Aid workers have been able to reach nearly two-thirds of the displaced population, but face obstacles on a daily basis due to insecurity and the inaccessibility of many of the IDPs in an area with little or no road coverage.

Yesterday, Mr. Holmes visited uprooted people in Mwenga, approximately 80 kilometres south-west of the city of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, also in northeast DRC.

"Civilians continue to suffer enormously and disproportionately in this armed conflict," he said in Mwenga, where he helped launch a new feeding programme of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

North and South Kivu provinces have been ravaged by armed conflict mainly pitting DRC"s national army against insurgents of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, better known as FDLR, the group's French acronym.

Local armed militias and bandits also contribute to insecurity in the two Kivu provinces, where an estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced, more than 70 per cent of whom live with host families, increasing the burden on a population with already-scarce resources.