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Rebel attacks force Ugandans and refugees to flee

Rebel attacks force Ugandans and refugees to flee

UNHCR is worried about the fate of thousands of refugees who have fled their settlements in the north of Uganda in recent weeks due to an increase in rebel attacks.
23 April 2004

PAKELLE, Uganda, April 23 (UNHCR) - Thousands of people, both local Ugandans and Sudanese refugees, have reportedly fled settlements in northern Uganda's Adjumani district in recent weeks following a series of raids by rebels of the feared Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Due to the recent LRA raids and reports of extensive population displacement in northern Uganda, representatives of the UN refugee agency, the World Food Programme, and the Ugandan government are travelling to the affected area this weekend to assess the situation in the important refugee-hosting region.

UNHCR has recorded 25 rebel attacks in Adjumani and Moyo districts over the last three months. Of the 12 LRA raids reported so far this month, nine were on refugee settlements, including one on a site only 5 km from UNHCR's field office located 10 km outside Pakelle town. Of the 13 attacks that occurred in March and February, eight were against the refugee encampments.

The recent spate of raids - in which rebel groups of seven to 25 people entered local villages and refugee settlements mainly to steal food and medicine - has added to the region's insecurity, forcing local residents and refugees to flee.

"There are now thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons on the move in the districts of Adjumani and Moyo," said UNHCR Representative Cindy Burns.

The Sudanese refugees now on the run have fled the settlements of Maaji, Mongula and Olua, the more vulnerable southern settlements in Adjumani district. Many of the refugees are said to be going northwards to other refugee settlements and into neighbouring Moyo district.

LRA rebels have been operating hit-and-run tactics in the region for years, raiding communities and forcing thousands of native Ugandans to flee their homes, displacing more than 1.5 million people in the process. Refugees and Ugandans live in fear of the LRA, who have undertaken many murderous attacks in the past, often also kidnapping and maiming civilians.

The Ugandan government reportedly bolstered its forces in the region this week with the dispatch of a second battalion of troops. Burns said UNHCR is starting to register displaced Sudanese in areas where it has access, but that the agency wants to avoid creating new sites.

With the planting season now underway, the refugee agency is concerned that if the Sudanese refugees cannot be persuaded to return to their settlements to tend their fields, they will not find enough food during the interim period, resulting in increased hardship and dependence on international food aid.

The UN refugee agency cares for 173,000 Sudanese in the north of Uganda. Many live in settlements west of the Nile River, while some 65,000 refugees live in the region around Pakelle where they are exposed to LRA raids.