|Families seek safety in towns before night falls and attacks begin|
GULU, Uganda, 27 May 2004— Every evening at sunset families hurry along the road to Gulu in northern Uganda, desperate to reach the town before darkness falls. They are among the tens of thousands of people who abandon their homes at night to escape attack from rebel forces and to save their children from being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
It is estimated that 12,000 children have been abducted since 2002. They are forced to fight for the LRA, made to work or used for sex. Up to three thousand more have become separated from their families while fleeing to safety.
This week UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy has been drawing attention to the plight of these children and the 1.6 million people displaced by the 18-year-old civil war.
“The Government of Uganda has a responsibility to protect these children, and the rest of the world must play its part. So far the global community’s response has been woefully inadequate,” she said. “Governments to date have pledged just 20% of this year's UN appeal for $127 million in humanitarian aid for the region.”
Each night the town of Gulu offers shelter to 14,000 children seeking safety from the rebels. UNICEF is providing tents, blankets and sanitation facilities and is working with local organizations to alleviate the suffering.
Ms. Bellamy also visited a reception centre for children who have been released or have escaped from the LRA. Many of the girls have given birth to babies conceived when they were forced to have sex with army commanders. UNICEF is working with the Gulu Support the Children Organisation (GUSCO) to provide food, clothing, health care, counselling and basic education.
Ms. Bellamy has called for the immediate release of all children from armed groups. While in Gulu she met with the commander of the 4th Division of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces, who confirmed Uganda’s commitment to ending recruitment under the age of 18.
In the south of the country Ms. Bellamy visited UNICEF-supported community programmes for promoting education and preventing HIV/AIDS. She praised Uganda’s progress in achieving universal primary education and its response to the AIDS pandemic.