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UNICEF calls for prompt return of children and women in LRA captivity

KAMPALA, 26 August 2007 - UNICEF today urged all parties engaged in ongoing efforts to peacefully resolve the armed conflict between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), to ensure the immediate and safe return home of an estimated 1,500 children and women still associated with the LRA.

Citing progress made since the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was signed a year ago today, including the 29 June 2007 Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation, UNICEF called for a redoubling of efforts towards a timely return of children and women.

Particularly encouraging were provisions in the 29 June Agreement to recognize and address the special needs of children, adopt child-sensitive approaches, and protect the dignity, privacy and security of women and girls. This reflects a common recognition of the conflict’s impact on those children and women, with their timely return being in their best interest, said UNICEF.

All returning children and women would receive appropriate assistance and protection, in close collaboration with the Amnesty Commission, District Local Governments, traditional and religious leaders, and humanitarian organizations, said UNICEF.

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

It is expected that the majority of children and women would be returning to their original homesteads in Uganda.

Saying that the ongoing negotiations represent a tangible opportunity to herald a lasting peace to northern Uganda, UNICEF also called upon all communities to receive the children and women with understanding, acceptance and social support.

“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,” said McKenzie. “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.”

More than 2,000 children returning from the LRA have been served this year by community-based income generation, peer support and other reintegration programmes, supported by UNICEF and its partners.

Data available in District Local Government registers and records maintained by numerous reception centres, which provide the initial family-tracing and counseling assistance to returning children and women, indicate that up to 25,000 children (including approximately 7,500 girls) have been associated with the LRA during the course of the decades-old conflict.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Chulho Hyun, UNICEF Media, Kampala: Tel +256 772 222 347, chyun@unicef.org




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