Refugees killed, aid workers kidnapped as Ugandan rebels raid Sudanese settlement
KAMPALA, Uganda, August 5 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today expressed shock following a rebel attack on a settlement in northern Uganda housing tens of thousands of Sudanese exiles, in which eight refugees were reportedly killed and four local aid workers kidnapped.
An estimated 24,000 refugees have fled into the bush following a pre-dawn attack Monday on Acholi-Pii refugee camp by insurgents from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Eight refugees were reported killed and the camp was ransacked and set on fire.
"Twenty-four thousand refugees are in flight," said UNHCR spokeswoman Bushra Malik, based in Kampala.
The refugee camp manager, who managed to flee on foot 15 km to the town of Rachkoko together with a group of some 10,000 refugees, spoke by radio to UNHCR staff in the northern Ugandan town of Kitgum.
The camp manager said the attackers commandeered a Ugandan army tank based at Acholi-Pii and used it to fire on the fleeing refugees and government troops trying to defend the area. According to witnesses, government troops were among the dead following the early morning attack.
No expatriate aid workers were in Acholi-Pii at the time of Monday's attack. UNHCR's implementing partner, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has 30 national staff working at the site. At least five IRC staff members managed to reach Rachkoko along with the fleeing refugees. They said two female schoolteachers, an IRC doctor and the organisation's logistician were kidnapped by the LRA rebels and taken into the bush.
UNHCR staff in the region are trying to confirm the initial reports. Witnesses said rebels set shelters in Acholi-Pii on fire, and that LRA troops were stealing the refugees' food stores and belongings as the Sudanese fled for safety.
UNHCR staff held urgent meetings in Kampala this morning with Uganda's Second Deputy Prime Minister and other government officials to discuss refugee camp security.
Acholi-Pii was previously attacked on July 31, but the Ugandan government troops managed to fend off the LRA insurgents. On July 8, LRA rebels attacked Maaji refugee settlement, in the nearby Adjumani area, murdering six refugees and sending 8,000 refugees fleeing.
The region has experienced insecurity since the mid-1980s. There are an estimated 500,000 displaced Ugandans living in the region. UNHCR assists some 155,000 Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
LRA rebels have in the past frequently targeted northern Uganda's refugee settlements, abducting refugees to serve as porters for the rebel forces, and forcing refugee girls into sham "marriages" with the rebel marauders.