Two aid workers killed in the north by suspected LRA rebels

The United Nations has condemned the attacks on humanitarian vehicles in northern Uganda this week in which two aid workers were killed by suspected rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

"This is a tragedy for those who have been killed, for their families and their organisations. It is unconscionable that the LRA is carrying out these vicious attacks on unarmed humanitarian workers," the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, said in a statement.

"The people of northern Uganda are heavily dependent on humanitarian aid and access to them is already precarious. These attacks threaten the provision of life-saving assistance to nearly 1.7 million people," he added.

Three separate attacks on aid workers in the region resulted in the death of the two individuals on Wednesday and the injury of four others, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

OCHA said one of the dead was a staff member from the NGO Caritas. He was shot dead in an ambush as he rode on a motor with a colleague about 8 km north of Kitgum town.

The second was killed in neighbouring Pader District when suspected LRA rebels ambushed aid workers from the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), killing one and critically injuring two.

"The rebels attacked a vehicle visibly marked with the agency's emblem," OCHA noted in a statement.

On Tuesday, a vehicle belonging to the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) had been attacked in Okwango, Lira District. Two CCF staff were injured in that attack - one of whom was in intensive care. "The vehicle, which carried CCF-Uganda identification, was reportedly sprayed with bullets," OCHA added.

Mohammed Siryon, head of the OCHA office in Kitgum, some 440 km north of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, said all the victims of the ambushes were Ugandan nationals.

The spate of attacks followed the issue earlier this month by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of arrest warrants for five top LRA leaders, in a bid to intensify efforts to hunt down the group.

CCF, in a statement, said the attack on its vehicle near Lira, some 360 km north of Kampala, had left one employee seriously injured with a chest wound and the other with minor foot injuries.

Reacting to the attacks, the British charity Oxfam expressed deep concern that the warrants might actually prolong the conflict in which the LRA claims to be fighting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's government.

"For two decades it has been impossible to apprehend the rebel leaders," said Emma Naylor, Oxfam's country programme manager in Uganda. "The communities that we work with are already asking how the [ICC] arrest warrants will be served.

"There is a lot of confusion and it's fast turning to fear," she said in a statement.

The Hague-based ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, confirmed on 14 October that it had issued its maiden arrest warrants for the five men who are accused of leading the rebellion which is notorious for brutalising civilians.

That news, greeted with dismay by mediators seeking to negotiate an end to the LRA's nearly 20-year insurgency, came as the government of Sudan agreed to allow the Ugandan military freer rein to pursue the rebels in southern Sudan.

"We know from bitter experience that the LRA can retaliate with extreme violence when they want to prove they are still a credible force. The government of Uganda must take urgent action to protect the population against possible attacks," Naylor said.

"There are nearly two million people made homeless by this conflict and who are dependent on aid handouts. Already 1000 extra deaths a week occur as a result of people being in camps. If we can’t get aid through, even more people will die," she added.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and close to 1.5 million driven out of their homes in northern Uganda since the rebellion against the Ugandan government started 20 years ago.

The LRA leader, Joseph Kony and his forces have been accused by human rights groups of massive abuses in the region including the abduction of at least 20,000 children who are used as porters, fighters and sex slaves for LRA commanders.