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Uganda rebel forces told to release abducted children

Thursday, 3 July 1997: UNICEF today reiterated its deep concern over the continuing plight of thousands of children abducted by the rebel forces of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.

The rebels have kidnapped an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 children from Gulu and Kitgum and other neighbouring districts in northern Uganda over the past two years (although no precise figures are yet available). Most of them are between 12 and 16 and are trained as fighters, forced into slave labour or given as wives to rebel commanders.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a statement today that, "despite the failure of current advocacy efforts to end the abductions and secure the unconditional release of these children, I am encouraged by the recent visit to the Sudan of a Ugandan delegation seeking to secure the release by the LRA of a number of adolescent girls abducted in late 1996."

The Ugandan delegation, which included senior government officials and Catholic sisters and representatives of concerned parents of abducted children, met with senior officials of the Government of the Sudan, including President Al Bashir, who promised that 21 of the abducted girls would be released imminently.

Ms. Bellamy welcomed the positive response of the Government of the Sudan, as well as the continuing action by the Ugandan Government, to ensure the safe return of the remaining children, stating that UNICEF will continue to monitor the situation closely.

"Though hopeful that at least some of the children will be released soon, I urge the international community to pledge its support to ongoing efforts to ensure the return of all children in captivity," she said. "The forthcoming Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) heads of state summit, due to take place in Nairobi on 8 July, would provide a most suitable forum for the Government of the Sudan to announce that these children have been returned to their families."

The UN Study on the Impact of Conflict on Children, released at the end of last year, revealed that millions of children are suffering from the consequences of armed conflict - as targets as well as bystanders. "Sadly, the unimaginable suffering of many of these Ugandan children is a reality for children in so many countries today," said Ms. Bellamy, "and concerted international efforts to secure the release of the Ugandan children will send an important lesson to other countries in similar situations."

Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/1997/27.

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