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UNICEF calls for end to child abduction in Uganda

Thursday, 6 March 1997: UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy today condemned the continuing abduction of children by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and called for the immediate release of all the youngsters now in captivity.

Armed opposition LRA fighters, particularly active in Gulu, Kitgum and other northern districts of Uganda, have been responsible for scores of deliberate killings and for the abduction of thousands of schoolchildren. Captives are often tortured, and those caught trying to escape are killed. Girls are sexually abused by soldiers and are given as "wives" in lieu of other forms of payment. Boys are used to carry arms and equipment during long treks back and forth to the Sudan. Both boys and girls are forced to take part in armed attacks, often on their own villages and communities.

While earlier estimates put the total number of children kidnapped at around 3,000 over the last two years, recent calculations, based on the numbers of children who have managed to escape, suggest the total number of abductions could be as many as 6,000 to 10,000.

"This problem is neither too big nor too complex to solve," insisted Ms. Bellamy. "We have to identify, beyond a shadow of a doubt, those from whom the LRA are drawing support for their despicable campaign of terror and abuse. Concerted international pressure in the right places could put an end to the abductions of children, if not to the war itself."

A few of those abducted have been lucky enough to escape, returning with horrific stories of their ordeals: "One of the boys attempted to escape but he was arrested," said David, 12. "All the children were given a big stick and were ordered to beat him till he died. The rebel commander warned us that if we ever leave the rebels, the spirits of people we killed would follow and attack us. Sometimes when I am sleeping, the boy we killed visits me and accuses me of killing him when he was innocent. Sometimes, even during the day, I hear him crying, begging for mercy to me not to kill him."

The campaign of terror, waged by rebels in the fields and villages of northern Uganda, has now brought the area to the brink of famine. Fields lie neglected by farmers who have fled for their lives and many thousands face food shortages.

"The lives of an entire generation of children are being shattered in the contagion of violence consuming the Great Lakes Region of Africa," said Ms. Bellamy. "How long before the world hears the silent screams of children in eastern Zaire, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda? These children are victims, not only of war, but of the lamentable failure of adults -- on all sides of most conflicts -- to protect the lives and welfare of their children," she said.

In times of conflict, children are the hardest hit. In Tingi Tingi refugee camp in eastern Zaire, children under the age of five were dying at a rate of 13 or 14 per day through the month of February. The camp is now being abandoned in the face of rebel advances and thousands of those children are wandering without food or water in the untracked wilderness as the war rages around them.

"Whatever the origins and complexities of these intricate and tragic crises, there is no "just cause" for the death or torture of a child. The world must take responsibility instead of taking cover," said Bellamy.

Please email media@unicef.org with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/97/04.


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