Donors Must Pressure Museveni to End the War in the North, International Agencies Demand

By Linda Frommer
Washington, DC

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 12, 2002

The Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni must bring about an immediate end to the war in Northern Uganda, international relief agencies and human rights organizations are now saying in a series of reports that are for the first time bringing the 17-year war in Northern Uganda to the attention of the international community. In a report to be presented to Uganda's international donors, which have lavished aid and debt breaks on the country since Museveni came to power in 1986, aid agencies have presented the case that the "seemingly endless war" in Northern Uganda has cost the country "$1.3 billion. It [the government] must do whatever is necessary to resolve the conflict peacefully."

For the past 17 years, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, has waged war against the Museveni government, with the primary point of attack of the LRA being Kony's community of origin: the Acholi people of the three districts of Kitgum, Gulu, and Pader. It is estimated that in the past ten years, the LRA has abducted more than 10,000 children, killing many of them and forcing others to become child-killer-soldiers or sex slaves of the LRA commanders. Within Northern Uganda, 500,000 people languish in camps for the internally displaced, without clean water, adequate food or sanitation, and without medical services. The economy of the north has been completely destroyed, and the Acholi community has been robbed of its children, its means of livelihood, and its dignity by a combination of wanton violence on the part of the LRA and the apparent incapacity of the Ugandan government to protect them.

The report that the donors will receive in their meeting Dec. 11-13 in Kampala was produced by the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU), which includes Britain's Oxfam International, Care International, the Danish Save the Children Fund, and World Vision. The report, titled "The Net Economic Cost of the Conflict in the Acholiland Subregion of Uganda," notes that

The war in the north has:

Continuing prosecution of the war militarily, will cost 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, according to a report by the Danish NGO MS Uganda, and the Ugandan government Oct. 21 announced a 25% cut in civilian ministries to allocate the funds that it says it needs to prosecute the war against the LRA.

For more than a decade the Ugandan government did nothing against the LRA, except to force hundreds of thousands of people of the three districts in the north into so-called protected villages, where they lack all means of livelihood and are ravaged by disease and also be continuing attacks from the LRA. Pabbo camp, the larged IDP camp, has been attacked by the LRA 17 times in the past 24 months, leaving 44 people killed, 40 people abducted, and 774 huts burnt.

In February of this year, based on an agreement with Sudan, where the LRA had found safe haven from 1994 to 1999, the Ugandan military was permitted to strike deep into southern Sudan against the LRA camps. The result, however, has been devastating to the Acholi community. As the LRA has been hounded in southern Sudan, it has descended with a vengeance into Northern Uganda to launch devastating acts of retribution against the Acholi community for its lack of support for the LRA war against Museveni. The attacks peaked in September and then again in the second and third week of October, when the LRA attacked Agago County in Pader district October 22 through 24, burning 50 people alive and abducting scores of children. Gulu MP Reagan Okumu reports that in the last three months, the LRA has killed 670 Acholi civilians, abducted 2,104 people, and burnt 3,139 huts, 156 vehicles, and 43 motor vehicles. "This is the highest peak I can think of in the history of child abductions in Northern Uganda," Richard Oneka of the Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO) reported Oct. 31, estimating that 4,000 Acholi children have been abducted since June, when the LRA was forced southward out of Sudan.

While the Ugandan army states that it is actively pursuing Kony forces in southern Sudan, it is not acting aggressively against the LRA in Northern Uganda. In an effort to change the view that the UPDF is not actively pursuing the LRA inside the country, the government Nov. 8 arrested three UPDF majors, a captain, and four lieutenants for allegedly failing to repulse Kony rebels when their units came under attack.

But the pattern of the war over the last 17 years shows that the failure to respond aggressively to LRA rebels inside Uganda is not deviant UPDF behavior. In a briefing paper on Northern Uganda released at the end of October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged that both the LRA and the Ugandan government have increased their abuses against the civilians of Northern Uganda in recent months. "The Ugandan government has responded to the increased LRA activity by ordering on Oct. 3 tens of thousands of people to leave their villages within 48 hours and gather in towns and displacement camps. On October 6, the army started bombing the region that was to be evacuated. Local sources have reported that some civilians have died in the bombings." HRW further stated that the forced herding of Acholi civilians into camps with extremely poor conditions violates Protocol II of the Geneva Convention. "The standards of the Geneva Convention have clearly been violated by the Ugandan government," HRW stated.

The U.S.-based Refugees International has gone a step further and called upon the Uganda government to immediately end Operation Fist and fully commit to negotiations with the LRA even possibly under the auspices of the United Nations. "The world is not aware that half a million people are displaced. This is a humanitarian crisis. There's a generation of people who have lived in IDP camps." Quoting a UN official, the RI states: "But donors don't want to portrary Uganda as another African country that is going down the drain. Because they give so much to Uganda, donors have a political motivation to make sure that it is seen as a success story." Donors should publicly call for an end to Operation Fist and pressure the government of Uganda to commit to negotiations."

The LRA has made it known that it will not negotiate with Museveni except with the mediation of a neutral third party. Nevertheless, if the Uganda government wanted to end the war, political observers believe it could easily do so. The LRA does not seek power or territory, but guarantees of amnesty. Many former child-soldiers of the LRA have been rehabilitated and been reunited with their families and reintegrated into the community-despite their past crimes against that community. But the war has served several purposes for the Museveni government. It has politically enabled the Ugandan military to be militarily present in southern Sudan, where it can continue its support the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army of John Garang. The war enables him to paint his political opponents with a "terrorist" brush, as Musevei has charged his primary rival in the last elections, Dr. Kizza Besigye, as working with the LRA. The war continues the decimation of the Acholi people, who were the primary base of support for the government Museveni overthrew in 1986. Even more importantly, the war functions as a point of violence that blocks Uganda's from becoming a democratic country in which organized political opposition is permitted-an eventuality Museveni fears the most.

Acholi community elders and religious leaders have been unanimous and relentless in their pursuit of peace-coming under the attack of the Museveni government for just that reason. But as long as donors continue to tolerate the devastation of Northern Uganda at the hands of both the LRA and the UPDF, there is little chance that Museveni will enter into serious negotiations. Without direct and forceful pressure from donors, the war-and the continued genocide of the Acholi people-will continue.

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