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UN aid chief calls for release of children and women while meeting Ugandan rebel leader

UN aid chief calls for release of children and women while meeting Ugandan rebel leader

USG Jan Egeland
The top United Nations aid official has called on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to release children, women and other non-combatants during a landmark meeting with rebel leaders in a remote jungle outpost, stressing it was “make-or-break time” in the peace process to end 20 years of brutal conflict with Uganda’s Government.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland met Joseph Kony yesterday on the border between southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in discussions that lasted for 30 minutes, and which also involved the Vice-President of South Sudan, as well as members of the Ugandan and LRA negotiating teams.

“This is the first time the international community was able to impress upon the senior command of the LRA and their supreme leader the importance of humanitarian issues, including ongoing respect for the cessation of hostilities and the transfer of individuals among the LRA, including women, children and wounded,” Mr. Egeland said in a press release today.

He noted that the LRA leadership had agreed to come back within a month with an answer to this request and they had also agreed to identify, by 22 November, those sick and wounded in need of care.

“If we succeed in this peace effort led by the Government of Southern Sudan and supported by the UN, there is a good chance peace will break out in the region as a whole. Failing to do so may have catastrophic consequences – not only in northern Uganda, but also in southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR) – for local communities.”

The meeting took place in Ri-Kwangba, one of two locations where the LRA is to assemble according to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement it signed with the Ugandan Government on 26 August, and Mr. Egeland emphasized the importance of moving this process along.

“There is progress to be made at the peace talks, though the process is slow… It is now make-or-break time in the region and for northern Uganda. The UN will continue to act as brokers and supporters.”

Mr. Kony, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), raised the issue of the indictment against him and other senior LRA leaders, although Mr. Egeland reiterated that he would not speak on behalf of the ICC, which is an independent organization.

During its long conflict with the Ugandan Government, the LRA became notorious for abducting children and then using them as soldiers or porters, while subjecting some to torture and allocating many girls to senior officers in a form of institutional rape.

The UN has begun to provide humanitarian assistance to the areas affected by LRA violence, while the non-governmental organization (NGO) Caritas is providing basic services to the LRA assembly areas. The UN will provide logistical support to the peace process through the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and will also be observers of the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team.

Following his meeting on Sunday with the LRA leadership, Mr. Egeland went today to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where he is expected to meet with high-level Government officials. Mr. Egeland is on his last mission before stepping down as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and also from his other post as Emergency Relief Coordinator.