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UNHCR supports restoration of law and order in northern Uganda

UNHCR supports restoration of law and order in northern Uganda

As large numbers of displaced people return home in northern Uganda, UNHCR helps the police re-establish a presence in remote areas of return.
14 April 2009
UNHCR Representative Stefano Severe (second from right) hands over office equipment to the police in Pader district during the commissioning of a police post.

APIETA, Uganda, April 14 (UNHCR) - The long arm of the law did not reach very far in northern Ugandan districts like Kitgum after the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) launched a two-decade rebellion against the government in 1987.

Ringed by conflict, the village of Apieta was a no-go zone and if anyone needed help they had to travel almost 20 kilometres, usually by foot, to reach the nearest police station. But the situation has changed dramatically since the LRA and the government began sporadic peace talks in 2007.

The return of peace has allowed some 800,000 people to leave special camps for the internally displaced in northern Uganda and return to their homes over the past two years. The police are also coming back to restore order among the returning population - and UNHCR is helping them serve the more remote areas.

Ventorino Okumu, a native of Apieta, said there was a vacuum when the fighting ended and criminals took advantage of this. "Bad elements would come and steal our animals, steal our crops and steal our poultry because there was no police presence in the village," the 49-year-old father of seven explained.

"The community met and decided that we needed a police post in the area," Okumu said, adding that he had offered land for the station that was built. The police have been resuming their constitutional duty in the north, but there is a problem re-establishing a presence in remote areas, such as Apieta, because of the lack of infrastructure.

UNHCR is trying to help fill this gap and at the same time contribute to the restoration of law and order at the grassroots level, which has obvious benefits for the reintegration and protection of returnees.

To this end, the refugee agency has funded the construction by a German implementing partner of 12 police stations, including one in Apieta, to serve the surrounding community in remote areas of the north. The posts were built using environmentally friendly bricks made of local soil and cement.

"Law and order has a strong link with protection. When we saw that there was a need that could make a difference in the lives of people, we approached the authorities and created something concrete - like this police station," Stefano Severe, UNHCR's representative in Uganda, told participants at the colourful opening ceremony in February for the post in Acholibur village, Pader district.

A month later, locals in Acholibur said there had been a marked improvement in the law and order situation. "We have noticed a fall in the crime rate since the police post was commissioned," said Bernard Ongaya, a local leader in Acholibur. "We are grateful to UNHCR for that."

In the past, UNHCR has supported the police in northern Uganda by providing them with bicycles and thus help them patrol a larger area. Last year, the agency handed over 600 bicycles.

By Moses Odokonyero in Apieta, Uganda