New York, 29 March 2002 - UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy expressed alarm today over the dangers faced by thousands of abducted girls and boys caught in the midst of a major military offensive that has escalated dramatically in southern Sudan in recent days.
The military offensive involves both the Ugandan and Sudanese authorities in efforts to put an end to ten years of brutality by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony. The offensive is also intended to secure the freedom of the remaining survivors of as many as 10,000 children abducted by the LRA over the past ten years.
UNICEF is deeply concerned that many children may be killed and injured in the attacks, including children who may have been forced to fight alongside their captors.
"The combined effort of the Ugandan and Sudanese governments finally to bring an end to the intolerable abuses of the LRA is indeed welcome," said Carol Bellamy. "However, reports of the intensity of the military operations raise deep concerns that innocent children and women - the primary victims of Kony's brutality - are themselves being caught in the crossfire."
Bellamy repeated her previous appeals to the LRA to immediately and unconditionally release the children they are holding. And recognizing that military action to deal with the LRA has always been an option of last resort, she called on the governments of Uganda and Sudan to conduct their offensives in such a manner as to minimize the risks to children and other civilians. In so doing she cited unconfirmed reports that many children and women have been among the casualties in recent days.
For ten years the activities of the LRA have brought fear and disruption to large areas of northern Uganda from which they abducted an estimated 10,000 children for use as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. At the LRA's bases in southern Sudan many have died of disease, starvation and at the violent hands of their captors.
"The almost unimaginable suffering of these children has haunted us for years. Yet despite the best efforts of UNICEF and others to seek their safe release and return to their families, these children have continued to endure unspeakable physical, psychological and sexual violence. There has never been a more critical time for the many governments and other partners who have engaged on this issue in the past to act with us now and help put an end to this nightmare," Bellamy said.
For further information, please contact:
Liza Barrie, UNICEF Media, New York: 212-326-7593 or 646-207-5178