EU calls for protection of civilians from LRA rebels

The European Union has urged the Ugandan government to protect its citizens from attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and to ensure that those affected by the conflict continued to receive humanitarian supplies.

"A recent upsurge in violent attacks in northern Uganda led to the UN suspending its field missions. This is a matter of grave concern," said the EU General Affairs Council in a statement issued at the end of its meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Relief agencies working in northern Uganda, including the UN, curtailed their operations on 27 October following attacks on aid workers by suspected LRA rebels.

The attacks, which occurred on 25 and 26 October, saw the rebels carry out three ambushes on humanitarian workers killing two people and injuring four.

After reviewing the situation, UN humanitarian operations in northern Uganda resumed on 1 November, a statement issued by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Kampala on Friday said.

However, on 2 November, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) suspended its operations in areas of southern Sudan after suspected LRA fighters killed two of its de-miners - an Iraqi international team supervisor and his Sudanese colleague.

On 5 November, the rebels again killed another international NGO worker in an ambush on the Sudanese side of the border. Collin Lee, 67, an employee of International Aid Services (IAS) from Bermuda, died of gunshot wounds, while his wife and driver were seriously wounded.

The EU reiterated its concern over the continuation of conflict in northern Uganda and the serious humanitarian situation for the estimated 1.5 million people displaced by the strife.

"The EU stands ready to assist with the government of Uganda's efforts to re-settle the internally displaced people in their home areas, when the security situation allows, and to support efforts towards reconciliation.

"The Council calls on the government of Uganda to actively promote the economic and social development of Northern Uganda and the full integration of its people in Uganda's political process."

It welcomed statements by Sudan's Government of National Unity, and Vice-President Salva Kiir, that Sudan would actively help in combating the LRA on Sudanese territory.

The EU called last month's decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue warrants for the arrests of five LRA commanders "a historic first step" and maintained that "there should be no impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes."

It urged the Ugandan government "to take exceptional measures, including a clear and active information campaign, to encourage all members of the LRA not indicted by the ICC or under national jurisdiction to seek amnesty, reconciliation and reintegration into their communities and to create the conditions to promote such returns".

"Account should be taken of the special needs of children that have been involved in armed conflict," it added.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and about 1.5 million displaced in northern Uganda since the LRA started fighting nearly two decades ago.

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