Military efforts to end an 18-year campaign of terror in northern Uganda are not working, and a new multinational effort is urgently needed, Ugandan Roman Catholic Archbishop John Baptist Odama said last week.
“For us on the ground, we call it a site of human tragedy. I frequently call it a situation of SOS,” the archbishop said in an interview Thursday during a Washington visit to lobby for U.S. help in resolving the conflict.
The rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been terrorizing the Acholi people of Uganda’s Gulu region since President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986.
Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency-relief coordinator, described the situation in northern Uganda earlier this year as “a major humanitarian emergency” and “perhaps the most under-reported story in the world today.”
LRA leader Joseph Kony, an Acholi, initially targeted troops of the secular government, but turned on his own people when the Ugandan army was dispatched to the region.
Mr. Kony has said he must cleanse the Acholi people and often cites biblical references to justify the massacre of those who do not support the LRA’s cause.
Almost 1.6 million Acholi people have been internally displaced, living in camps and fearing for their lives each night. From April 9 to June 3, as many as 235 persons were killed during LRA raids on various camps, Archbishop Odama said.
Nearly 30,000 Acholi children have been abducted and recruited by the LRA to be used as soldiers on the front lines and have in some cases been forced to kill their own parents.
“The most affected are the children,” the archbishop said.
He said his Washington trip was to rally support for a multinational effort to end the conflict using reconciliation and restoration rather than brute force. He has met with several members of Congress and officials from the State Department.
He said events have demonstrated the failure of Mr. Museveni’s attempt to subdue the LRA by force.
“The situation has persisted with [Mr. Museveni] in power,” the archbishop said.
Uganda is often portrayed in the media as a beacon of prosperity and peace in Africa, but the archbishop said, “There are two Ugandas: one which is progressing, and in the north … it is a Uganda that is wounded … and is not making any development at all.”
The archbishop called for direct peace talks with the rebels, coupled with a commitment to grant amnesty to Mr. Kony and the LRA rebels upon reconciliation of the conflict.
“The belief of the people is, although criminal he may be, he is a friend to somebody,” Archbishop Odama said.
Progress could be made in Gulu, he said, “if we could have international presence in the northern part to counteract what I call the muzzling of local voices as they try to bring the truth out.”