UN humanitarian chief discusses peace talks with Ugandan President

UN humanitarian chief discusses peace talks with Ugandan President

John Holmes
The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator held talks today with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, stressing the importance of protecting civilians and meeting their humanitarian needs during the current peace process between the African country’s Government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

John Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, met Mr. Museveni in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, at the start of the second leg of his African tour.

Mr. Holmes described the meeting as “a lively exchange” and said the latest round of peace talks in Juba, southern Sudan, between the Ugandan Government and the LRA topped the discussions, according to a press release issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The peace talks resumed on the weekend, a month after the two sides agreed to extend an agreement on a formal cessation of hostilities – first struck last year – until the end of June.

Mr. Holmes said he emphasized to Mr. Museveni the importance of meeting humanitarian needs during the anticipated return process for some of the vast population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.

“We agreed that the United Nations and the Government of Uganda should work on humanitarian and development issues in the coming years and also enhance partnership to ensure a smooth transition process,” he said.

He added that the two men discussed the security situation in Karamoja, one of Uganda’s poorest regions, where there has been escalating violence since November last year. Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said “the indiscriminate and excessive use of force” by Government forces had led to the deaths of 69 civilians in Karamoja between last November and the end of March.

Tomorrow Mr. Holmes is expected to travel to Kitgum district in the north to meet aid workers and local authorities and tour settlement camps for IDPs, including ex-combatants. Kitgum is home to about 260,000 IDPs spread across 23 settlements.

Thousands of people have been killed and an estimated 1.5 million others have become displaced in Uganda or neighbouring countries since the LRA insurgency began in 1986. During that time, the rebel group has become 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.

In October 2005 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its first-ever arrest warrants against Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, and four of the group’s commanders – Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya – on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.