Uganda: IDPs fear worsening of situation in the North
19 January 2009

An aerial view of Largo IDP camp in Northern Uganda. (Villaneuva/JRS)
However after the recent anti-LRA offensive fear among residents has risen that the LRA might start attacking civilians and abducting children again.
Kitgum, 19 January 2009 Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda fear a worsening of the situation after the joint military offensive by Uganda, Congo and South Sudan on the Lord’s Resistance Army’s base in north-eastern Congo (LRA) on December 14, 2008.

After two relatively calm years and ongoing peace talks between the rebels and the Ugandan government the majority of people living in the camps had started moving to transit camps or back to their villages of origin in Gulu, Amuru, Pader and Kitgum Districts from December 2008. The camp population was reduced from over one million in 2005 to less than 500,000 in November 2008 according to statistics of the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). However after the recent anti-LRA offensive fear among residents has risen that the LRA might start attacking civilians and abducting children again. Since the start of the LRA insurgency over two decades ago two million people have been displaced and thousands of children abducted.

In Kitgum District the media reported single cases returning to the camps. However, a significant change in movement trends can not be confirmed and it is difficult to estimate the impact of the recent attacks because no assessment has been conducted yet. According to IRIN, Omony Ogaba, Resident District Commissioner of Kitgum said there was no cause for alarm, urging IDPs to go back home. The Ugandan Army increased the number of troops at the border between DRC and South Sudan saying there was no need to panic because the government would ensure the rebels did not cross the Ugandan border again.

Living in limbo and fear

The atmosphere among IDPs is mixed: people partly support and partly criticise the joint military offensive because of possible negative consequences on the relatively peaceful past two years. Uncertainty about the future, despair, fear and anxiety about new attacks of the LRA are reasons why IDPs still maintain their houses in the camps and simultaneously put up new ones in their villages thus keeping the option to quickly return to the safety of the camps. Since there is no sign of LRA activity yet, people are going about their daily activities normally exercising more caution at the same time. Especially those who plan to return home are watching the developments taking place attentively.

The work of JRS is affected in so far, as the communities we serve expect us to provide more information, especially because the government provides information via radio, which many lack access to. The information gap which therefore exists among the population creates more uncertainty. Should the security situation get worse, JRS would have to prepare for any eventuality in terms of financing, activities, locations, planning etc. as it was already the case in 2006. But at the moment the team in Kitgum does not expect that.

In 2009 JRS Kitgum will continue offer services for IDPs through four programmes. The peace building & conflict transformation programme will concentrate on training communities to resolve land conflicts and conflicts at family and community levels as well as conducting Children Right’s campaigns and monitoring Human Rights violations. Psychosocial Services will provide on-going training for community facilitators and community volunteer counsellors as well as conducting awareness workshops on alcohol targeting teachers and conducting home visits. The Community Outreach Department focuses on work with groups of youths in the camps. Finally, the Education Programme will concentrate on short term vocational trainings e.g. in the area of agricultural skills.

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