UNHCR condemns rebel attack on refugee settlement in Uganda
ADJUMANI, Uganda, July 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has expressed serious concern for the safety of more than 100,000 mainly-Sudanese refugees in north-western Uganda following Monday's rebel attack on a refugee settlement that killed five refugees, including one child.
In their two-hour raid on Maaji settlement in Adjumani district, some 200 rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) also abducted five refugees. One of the hostages escaped later that night, telling UNHCR staff he had been taken captive with two other refugee men and a woman with her baby still strapped on her back. He said he fled when the rebels and captives fell into a ditch.
Before leaving Maaji, the rebels torched more than 120 houses in two sites within the settlement. They also burnt down 23 houses belonging to the army detachment stationed near the site, five classrooms in a primary school used by refugees, and a grinding mill.
Maaji settlement used to host some 11,000 Sudanese refugees, part of the over 100,000 mainly-Sudanese refugees living in the north-western Ugandan areas of Adjumani, Moyo and Arua. In all, Uganda is host to more than 187,000 refugees mainly from Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.
On Tuesday, UNHCR staff reported seeing hundreds of refugees walking towards Adjumani, some 45 km from the scene of the attack, and more than 400 km north of Uganda's capital of Kampala.
"They were carrying their belongings either on the head or on bicycles," said Abdulkadir Hirse Diirshe, the acting head of UNHCR in Adjumani. "Every metre of the 45-km road, you could see tired and fearful refugees who had managed to escape the fighting between the army and the LRA rebels."
One of the raided sites - Site 9 - was completely deserted on Tuesday, UNHCR staff reported. The health centre near the destroyed site had been looted of drugs and equipment.
"I could see that the structure itself was intact, but inside we found bare hospital beds and nothing more," said Diirshe.
Hundreds of frightened refugees have taken shelter in other parts of Maaji settlement. Others are camping at two churches and a feeding centre in the area. Some have moved to the adjacent Ukusijoni settlement, some 10 km north-east of Maaji.
UNHCR and implementing partners in the area have begun mobilising resources to assist the displaced refugees in Adjumani district.
Thousands of people have been killed in northern Uganda since the LRA - a quasi-religious rebel group - launched its campaign against Yoweri Museveni's government in 1988. Hundred of thousands more in the north have fled their homes in fear of rebel attacks on civilians and army positions. The LRA - which seeks to run the country on the biblical 10 Commandments - has also been known to abduct children, conscripting boys into the rebel army and keeping girls as sex slaves for its commanders.