Top UN envoy for northern Uganda continues visit in region

Top UN envoy for northern Uganda continues visit in region

Joaquim Chissano and Ban Ki-moon (from file)
As part of a tour of the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Envoy for the areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joaquim Chissano stopped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) this weekend.

In the capital Kinshasa, Mr. Chissano met with President Joseph Kabila and was briefed by the senior leadership of the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, on the situation in the vast nation, according to Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas.

Last week, the Envoy traveled to Uganda’s capital Kampala, where he met with President François Bozizé of the Central African Republic. He also visited Juba, in southern Sudan, the site of previous talks between the LRA and the Ugandan Government, for consultations with southern Sudanese and UN officials.

Appointed in December 2006, Mr. Chissano – a former Mozambican president – has been tasked with addressing the regional ramifications of the Ugandan conflict, particularly its impact on neighbours such as Sudan and the DRC, as well as its root causes.

Thousands of civilians have been killed or abducted since the LRA began its rebellion in 1986, and more than 1.5 million people have become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs). During the conflict the rebel group 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.

This time last year, the Ugandan Government and the LRA signed a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, but a comprehensive agreement has not yet been struck and some senior LRA figures face International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments.

In a related development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has urged all sides working to peacefully resolve the conflict between the Ugandan Government and the LRA to ensure the immediate and safe return home of roughly 1,500 women and children still associated with the LRA.

The agency noted that progress has been made since last year’s accord, including the 29 June 2007 Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation, which contained provisions to address the special needs of children, as well as protect the dignity, privacy and security of women and girls.

UNICEF called for efforts to return women and children in a timely manner to be reinforced.

“We are ready for the children and women to come home. It is time that they come home,” said Keith McKenzie, UNICEF Representative in Uganda. “We will help them go back home and back to school. They have been away for too long.”

The agency said that it will provide assistance and protection – in concert with the Amnesty Commission, local governments, traditional and religious leaders and humanitarian organizations – to all returning women and children, the majority of whom are expected to go back to their original homesteads in Uganda.

“Placing the centre of support squarely on the shoulders of the community is essential to providing stability for those returning, and to giving back childhood to those children,” Mr. McKenzie said. “Without positive community support, we may easily squander the opportunity for children and young persons, our most precious resource, to grow up in a climate of peace and tolerance.”

UNICEF and its partners have assisted over 2,000 children returning from the LRA this year through community-based income generation, peer support and other reintegration programmes.

Local government figures show that up to 25,000 children – with approximately 7,500 of them girls – have been associated with the LRA during the conflict.