13 May 2004

Uganda: Unicef Executive Director to Visit Northern Uganda

Kampala — The executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is set to visit northern Uganda at the end of May in an effort to raise the profile of women and children suffering in "one of Africa's longest and most brutal civil conflicts".

Carol Bellamy will arrive in Uganda on 25 May and will shortly after travel to northern Uganda's troubled district of Lira to visit camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). She will also visit child rehabilitation centres in neighbouring Gulu town and inaugurate two new permanent UNICEF offices in the north, officials said.

Chulho Hyun, a UNICEF spokesman, told IRIN in the capital, Kampala, on Thursday: "The main focus is definitely on the impact of the conflict. Ms Bellamy will be drawing attention to the plight of the IDPs, which is growing increasingly acute."

Until recently, UNICEF had no permanent office in northern Uganda. In the last six months, however, two have been set up, one in Gulu, another in Kitgum - a town nearer to the border with Sudan in the war-affected part of Uganda.

The UN estimates that 1.6 million people have been displaced by the 18-year war between government forces and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) - a cult-like guerilla movement led by a mystic recluse, Joseph Kony.

Civilians fleeing LRA attacks have been forced to live in various camps scattered across the region. But the LRA have on several occasions attacked IDPs camps, killing residents and abducting scores of children for forcible recruitment as soldiers, porters and sex-slaves.

Hyun added: "Compared with three years ago, there has been a trebling of numbers displaced. Her [Bellamy's] visit is an opportunity for her to see this [at] first hand." She is also scheduled to address a meeting of the African Development Bank and visit educational projects in western Uganda.

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