Peace talks offer hope for northern Uganda, but crisis is far from over

from International Medical Corps
Published on 09 Oct 2006
Civil war has engulfed much of northern Uganda for nearly 20 years bringing violence and insecurity on par with that in Darfur. But peace talks are now underway and many are optimistic that fighting between rebel soldiers and government forces will come to an end.

At the core of the conflict in is the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group with no discernible goals except to overthrow the current government and install one based on its interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Civilians are more than caught in the middle of the violence, they have been specific targets of the LRA, which decided to "cleanse" the local Acholi people - its own tribe - of those who have refused to join in the fight.

Even though the crisis does not meet the official United Nations criteria for genocide, it is no less horrific. Nearly two million people are displaced. Ninety-five percent of the land has been abandoned and lies uncultivated, and tens of thousands of boys and girls have been forcibly conscripted. In fact, the UN estimates that 80 percent of the LRA's fighters are children.

But he also remains encouraged. "I find hope in the greater will I have seen in Uganda at the highest levels of government and in the international community, for a need to change the situation," said Egeland in an interview following a recent visit to the area. "I see a commitment to do more; to invest more in services and humanitarian programs but also to invest more in reconciliation and the return and integration programs so that people can finally go home."

The peace talks began on July 14, and a ceasefire was signed on August 26, giving civilians a long-awaited respite from the fighting. The main issues on the table are: a permanent ceasefire, accountability and reconciliation, the disarmament and reintegration of LRA soldiers into the community, resettlement of internally displaced people (IDPs), and a set of "comprehensive solutions" which involves the LRA's involvement in northern Uganda's political, social and economic development.

Complicating the process is the fact that indictments have been issued against LRA leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders by the International Criminal Court. Kony has consistently contended that if the charges are not dropped, the fighting will continue.

Since the peace negotiations commenced, International Medical Corps has begun to see movement among those displaced by the violence; some have started moving from the IDP camps to satellite or decongestion camps. Unfortunately, clean water and sanitation, health care and education are not readily available at these new camps.

IMC has been providing primary health care, reproductive health and nutrition services since 2003, but chronic insecurity often prohibit emergency teams from accessing the hardest hit areas and have prevented the formation of a functioning health infrastructure. Despite the optimism, the people of northern Uganda will need the support of the humanitarian community for years to come.