13 November 2002

Uganda: '7,000 Abducted Children Killed '

Kampala — A report officially released yesterday says 7,000 of the 9,000 children estimated to be with Joseph Kony rebels may be dead.

Aid agencies launched the report, The Net Economic Cost of the Conflict in the Acholiland Sub-region of Uganda, despite postponement of a crucial donor meeting that was expected to debate it.

"Deducting from those [children] who have escaped or been released," the report says, "it appears that about 9,000 children are unaccounted for. If perhaps 2,000 are still alive and in LRA captivity, that leaves 7,000 unaccounted for and presumed dead."

The report, which estimates the economic loss due to the 16-year war at $1.33bn (Shs 2,460bn), estimates the total number of children abducted by rebels at 14,000.

Care International carried out the study on behalf of a coalition of more than 40 non-governmental organisations under the Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU).

But the donor meeting, initially scheduled for Dec. 11-13, at which the NGOs planned to present the report, has been postponed.

Care Country Director Phil Vernon yesterday told The Monitor in an interview from his office, "I understand the donor meeting has been postponed until next year. But I am not sure if we should wait that long to debate this important issue. Our members including the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative [see that] our role is to bring these issues out."

A steering committee made up of Care International, Uganda Child Rights NGO Network, Save the Children Denmark, Oxfam Great Britain, and Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) leads CSOPNU.

Vernon said that the NGOs have already given the report to 'several government' officials.

Keith Muhakanizi, the director of economic affairs at the Minsitry of Finance, said last week that government would react to the report after it has studied it.

The report estimates total deaths at 23,520 people and average age of death at 21 years.

Given a life expectancy of 41 years, these could have been expected to have 20 years of productive life ahead of them, it adds.

"Therefore, the cost of loss of life is $1.7 million (Shs 3.2bn) per year or $34.3 million (Shs 63.5bn) for the whole period," says the report.

"Assuming losses include some voluntary recruits in addition to those inducted into the ranks through capture," the report says, "then it seems likely that the rebels have lost no less than 500 people per year, for a total of 8,000 people."

But the civilian deaths from the war average 750 persons a year, or 12,320 civilians.

The report warns, however, that the actual estimates are much higher.

For instance, it says, no published figures of aggregate UPDF, LDU and police losses were found, although "it seems unlikely that losses were less than 200 per year".

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