22 October 2008

Uganda: Kony Sells 30,000 Children in Darfur

Some 30,000 children, who were forcibly conscripted into the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda, were sold in the troubled Darfur region in Sudan, Parliament heard yesterday.

"Some of these children are in Darfur being used as child soldiers, porters and others sold as sex slaves to the Sudanese," Dr Stephen Kagoda, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Internal Affairs told the Parliamentary Defence Committee. "In fact, that's why (LRA leader Joseph] Kony fears to come out of the bush because we shall ask him to show us our children."

Dr Kagoda was among officials from the Internal Affairs Ministry led by State Minister for Youth and Children Affairs James Kinobe who appeared before the committee to give their views on "Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Bill, 2007". The Bill seeks to combat human trafficking in the country.

Dr Kagoda told the MPs that between 25,000-30,000 children abducted by the LRA in its two-decade long insurgency, cannot be accounted for as they were sold to Darfur to act as mercenaries.

The United Nations Children's Fund puts the number of abducted children by the LRA at 25,000. Among the notable abductions was that of 139 female students of St. Mary's College Aboke, Apac in October 1996. The deputy headmistress, Sr. Rachele Fassera, pursued the rebels and negotiated the release of 109 girls, but the rest, have never returned.

Maj. Kinobe confirmed Mr Kagoda's revelation, insisting that Kony should account for the missing children. "When Unicef demanded that LRA rebels release our children, Kony said he didn't have any children," Maj. Kinobe said. "This confirms our information that actually LRA sold our children to Darfur for economic gain. Before doing anything, we want this Kony man to account for our children and if he sold them to Darfur, he should come out and say so."

According to the World Bank report titled "Development and the next Generation", the LRA rebels focused on abducting males between 13 and 18 years but people of all ages and both sexes were taken.

"Those who had been abducted are more than three times likely to have a serious physical injury or illness that impedes their ability to work. Abductees are twice as likely to report difficulties in family relations. They have nearly a year less education and they are twice as likely to be illiterate," the report reads in part.

Both Maj. Kinobe and Dr Kagoda could not spell out when exactly the missing children were sold to Darfur, neither could the PS reveal the source of the information, insisting that it was classified.

The LRA has for more than 19 years fought the government in a war that left hundreds dead, about two million displaced and more than 20,000 children abducted. Some of the girls were turned into top commander's wives, and Kony himself is thought to have at least 60 wives.

The Ugandan government has for the last two years been engaged in peace negotiations with the LRA, mediated by the Government of South Sudan, but the signing of the final peace agreement in April stalled after the LRA leader refused to sign.

Kony, who together with some of his senior commanders are wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, is demanding that the ICC indictments against him be lifted first. The issue of missing children could set more hurdles for any continued negotiations between the LRA and the government and the eventual signing of the final peace agreement.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur and up to 300,000 killed since ethnic African groups rebelled against the Arab-dominated national government early in 2003. Asked about repatriation plans to rescue the victims, Mr Kagoda said; "As government, we must protect our people wherever they are."

The Youth MP for Northern Uganda, Mr Dennis Obua (NRM) among other legislators, demanded that the government initiates emergency diplomatic talks with South Sudan government to rescue the children.

But Mr Kagoda said when the government delegation went to Ri-kwagba together with Unicef officials, they saw some children but not the number in the records. "We are convinced that our children were taken to Darfur and its only Kony who knows what these children are doing there," he said.

Meanwhile, the committee heard that some Ugandan children were being trafficked out of the country in exchange for their kidneys and other organs for economic gains. "Human trafficking is real and is serious in Uganda today. Our children are being trafficked for organ transfers by a racket of people pretending to be generous," Dr Kagoda said.

Maj. Kinobe said orphanage centres and labour agencies have become a conduit for human trafficking. "We have evidence that some of these orphanage centres are owned by people pretending to be helping others yet they are committing serious offences of human trafficking. We want the new law to target such people in order to protect our people."

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