UNICEF applauds return of Uganda abductees

UNICEF today welcomed the retrieval of 75 people, including children and women, some of whom had been abducted from Northern Uganda by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. The children's agency congratulated the Governments of Sudan and Uganda for their evident determination to implement the provisions of the accords reached in Nairobi last month.
UNICEF confirmed that, since January 18, the abductees, who include 54 children, have been received in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where they have been placed under the care of UNICEF and UNHCR. It is not yet known whether any of the 30 girls abducted from St Mary's College, Aboke, in 1996, whose fate helped bring international attention to the these abductions, were among the group.

The first group of 21 abductees is scheduled to fly from Khartoum to the Ugandan capital of Kampala on Friday 28th of January and will be accompanied by UNICEF and UNHCR officials.

UNICEF and UNHCR are conducting individual interviews and compiling documentation to facilitate the process of repatriation of these adults and children and reuniting them with their families, as well as providing any necessary medical care, treatment and social care.

"UNICEF is highly appreciative of all that has been done by the government of Sudan to ensure the success of this first stage in the process, " said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "But we need to continue the work. There can be no rest until all of the children who have survived have been traced and returned to their homes, and until every effort has been made to determine the fate of those who have died, thereby allowing a final, if tragic, end to the agonising ordeal of their families."

The Nairobi accords, part of current efforts to normalise relations between the Sudan and Uganda and promote peace in the region, have been supported by The Carter Center, which was established by former US president Jimmy Carter to advance peace and health around the world. The accords include agreements on special efforts to locate and return abductees to their families.

The LRA has waged a decade-long guerrilla war to overthrow the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and has abducted thousands of children to be used as soldiers, porters and sex slaves.

The precise number of children abducted is unknown, but reliable estimates suggest that over five thousand are still missing. Children abducted from their homes in Northern Uganda have been forced to march to camps in neighboring southern Sudan: on the way, many die of disease or starvation.

As part of their initiation into rebel life, children are made to participate in brutal acts of violence, often being forced to help beat or hack to death fellow child captives who have attempted to escape. Those who survive are forced to take part in combat against the Ugandan army and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), to carry heavy loads, act as personal servants and, in the case of girls, serve as "wives" to rebel commanders.

UNICEF has been active in advocating for the return of abducted children as part of a larger programme to address the effects on children of conflict and instability throughout the region.

Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/2000/08