September 11th, 2006 04:10 EST
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator spotlights peace efforts in northern Uganda
The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator today met with internally displaced people in northern Uganda, where peace efforts offer hope to end a rebel-fueled conflict notorious for abuses against children.
“The ongoing peace process is the best and most serious opportunity we have had to end the conflict in northern Uganda,” Jan Egeland said today.
In northern Uganda on the second leg of his eight-day, three-nation mission to Africa, Mr. Egeland spent Saturday night in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in eastern Gulu district, where he participated in a traditional gathering with approximately 70 people, discussing issues of concern for the community, including the ongoing peace negotiations between the Government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
The Emergency Relief Coordinator visited a new settlement site for returning IDPs currently under construction and met with a group of former women abductees who formed the local association, Empowering Hands, to assist other women going through the reintegration process, as well as with a group from the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative and elected and administrative leaders of the district.
Meeting with the UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in Gulu, Mr. Egeland encouraged them to work to fill existing gaps in aid, stressing the importance of moving with the people as the returns process progressed. He said improved security conditions should enable the UN and NGOs to have greater access to the IDP camps.
The central concern voiced in all his encounters in Gulu was the population's fear that the indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the five most senior LRA leaders could jeopardize the peace process. In response, Mr. Egeland acknowledged the important role to be played by traditional Acholi justice mechanisms, but stressed that there could be no impunity for those allegedly responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even genocide. Bringing justice to northern Uganda should incorporate traditional justice mechanisms, he said, but must go beyond them as well.
Upon arriving in Gulu yesterday, Mr. Egeland met with community elders, camp leaders and local elected officials, as well as with a group of former LRA combatants and a group of former LRA women abductees who provided firsthand accounts of the
“The peace talks bring great hope for safe return and rebuilding of Acholi and Ugandan society,” he stressed.
Prior to his arrival in Gulu, Mr. Egeland concluded the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) leg of his mission by visiting a centre for demobilized girls, many of whom had suffered from sexual abuse, as well as Gety IDP camp in Ituri province, where he reviewed UN efforts to provide urgent assistance to newly displaced people.