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Ugandan Children Pawns of War, Official Says

April 15, 2004|From Reuters

UNITED NATIONS — The Lord's Resistance Army is stepping up its rebellion in Uganda, abducting about 10,000 children in the last 18 months for use as fighters and sex slaves in what may be the world's most neglected humanitarian crisis, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday.

The rebel group, which has waged an 18-year war against the Ugandan government, has now driven more than 1.5 million people from their homes in northern and eastern Uganda, up from 550,000 two years ago, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said.

The movement, led by self-proclaimed mystic and former altar boy Joseph Kony, says it is fighting the forces of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to defend the rights of the northern Acholi people.

The rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments.

"Most of the soldiers are children and most of the victims are children," Egeland told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on the crisis.

The kidnapped girls and boys "have been terrorized into becoming killing machines, terrorized into attacking their own villages, killing their own relatives -- then to be told, 'You now have nowhere to go and no one to return to. Now you are with us,' " he said.

Kony, who relies on a bizarre blend of Christian symbolism and traditional "magic" to lead his child followers, used a rare interview with Sudan's Referendum magazine this week to express a desire to kill Museveni.

During a visit to the region late last year, Egeland met a young girl who told him how she and other captives had been forced to tear apart with their teeth a child who had tried to escape, he said.

About 40,000 children and mothers have been obliged to become "night commuters," walking from their rural villages to nearby towns every night to stay safe from attack, he said.

The Ugandan government and the international community had done little to help, he said. Governments to date have pledged just 10% of this year's U.N. appeal for $127 million in humanitarian aid for the region.

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