NEW YORK, 14 June 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the release of nearly 100 women and children by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), but called for the unconditional release of thousands more children still held.
Last Wednesday, Ugandan authorities retrieved some 57 children and 42 women and transported them to safety in military barracks in the northern Ugandan district of Gulu.
"The release of these children and women is an important first step and we will do our best to ensure they can now return to their homes and families and start recovering from the terrible ordeal they have endured," said Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director. "But they are a small fraction of the 5,000 children who are still missing. The LRA must unconditionally and immediately release all its captives."
UNICEF expects the registration of the released children and women to be completed by Saturday. They will then be handed over to two reception centres run by international and Ugandan NGOs for family tracing and reunification.
The UNICEF Representative in Uganda, Martin Magwanja, is closely monitoring the situation of the children and women. He reports that while now being well cared for, many children arrived in Gulu weak, malnourished and evidently traumatized by all that they have endured. He is particularly concerned for the infants - one of whom is just four weeks old. The women - most of whom are under 25 years of age - are in an equally poor condition.
"The dire situation of those women and children who have now reached safety only adds a greater sense of urgency to UNICEF's renewed appeal for the LRA to immediately and unconditionally release all its captives," stated Bellamy.
The LRA has waged a decade-long guerrilla war from bases in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, abducting thousands of children to serve as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. According to a UNICEF-supported registration system, nearly 5,000 children abducted by the rebels are still missing and many thousands are thought to have died while in LRA captivity.
Children taken from their homes in northern Uganda are forced to march to camps in neighbouring southern Sudan, with many dying of disease or starvation on the way. As part of their initiation into rebel life, they are made to participate in brutal acts of violence, often being forced to beat or hack to death fellow child captives who have attempted to escape. Those who do survive are forced to take part in combat against the Uganda army and the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
For further information, please contact:
Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF New York (+212) 326-7269, firstname.lastname@example.org