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Ugandan rebels launch fresh attack on refugee settlement

Ugandan rebels launch fresh attack on refugee settlement

The Lord's Resistance Army has attacked Maaji refugee settlement in northern Uganda for the second time in weeks, looting and displacing more than 6,000 refugees. Authorities warn that the rebels could strike again.
11 September 2002

KAMPALA, Uganda, September 11 (UNHCR) - For the third time in just over two months, rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) on Monday launched a fresh attack on a refugee settlement in northern Uganda, looting and displacing more than 6,000 Sudanese refugees.

Monday's attack on Maaji settlement in Adjumani district of north-western Uganda was the second assault on the settlement following a raid in July. It comes close on the heels of another attack in August on the Achol-Pii camp in Kitgum district, also in the north.

The latest attack on seven sites in Maaji left one refugee woman injured, while 19 others were abducted by the marauding rebels. "Eight of the abducted refugees have returned to the camp, but the whereabouts of the rest remain unknown," reported Juan Castro-Magluff, Acting UNHCR Representative in Uganda.

The more than 80 LRA rebels, half of them armed, retreated hastily from Maaji settlement to the nearby Zoka forest when Ugandan army troops were deployed to the camp on Monday evening. The rebels left behind many of the looted items in their hurried retreat, said Castro-Magluff.

However, he warned, "Authorities stress that another attack cannot be ruled out."

On Monday night, more than 6,000 fearful refugees gathered at a feeding centre following the attack. They have since moved into primary schools, churches, nurseries and health posts at the site. The UN refugee agency is making arrangements to move them temporarily to a transit centre in the area.

"The refugees themselves are in good shape, but very shaken," said Castro-Magluff.

Maaji hosts a total of 11,000 refugees, but 5,000 of them accommodated in the settlement's other sites were not affected by Monday's raid.

Rebels of the LRA - a semi-religious group led by a self-proclaimed prophet - want to rule Uganda along the lines of the biblical 10 Commandments. They have gone on the rampage in many parts of northern Uganda in recent weeks, killing indiscriminately and looting villages in their path.

On July 8, LRA rebels launched a vicious attack on Maaji settlement, killing six refugees and abducting a similar number. The abducted refugees later escaped from their captors and returned to the camp. The attackers also set fire to large sections of the settlement, forcing thousands of refugees to flee.

On August 5, the rebels raided Achol-Pii - a camp of nearly 24,000 refugees - leaving more than 50 people dead, among them refugees, and displacing the entire camp population, which fled into adjacent forest areas. The displaced refugees are currently being settled again into alternative sites in other parts of the country.

On September 8, during a raid on Adjumani town, some 500 km north-west of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, more than 200 rebels attacked the remote town close to the Sudanese border, looting shops and burning dozens of houses. The rebels also abducted more than 50 people in a raid described by Ugandan authorities as "the biggest" since the onslaught on Achol-Pii camp.

Uganda is host to nearly 180,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi. More than 65 per cent of them are sheltered in the volatile northern areas.