Fear for children as ceasefire collapses in north

The head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, has expressed concern over the renewed abduction of children and women by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) following the recent collapse a ceasefire in northern Uganda.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last week cancelled the limited ceasefire he had offered the LRA in March and ordered a fullscale military operation against the group, accusing it of failing to respond positively.

"Every resurgence in the fighting brings renewed expressions of concern from governments and a wide range of national and international organisations," Bellamy said. "But these concerns have yet to be transformed into a constructive peace process."

Throughout its 16-year insurgency in northern Uganda, the LRA has abducted thousands of girls and boys from their families and forced them to commit atrocities against their own communities in northern Uganda. Some 20,000 children have since been abducted, over 5,000 in the last year alone, according to UNICEF estimates.

Bellamy said the recent intensification of the conflict and increased military operations in the area were a setback to hopes for peace. She urged both the Ugandan government and LRA leaders to renew efforts for dialogue and secure the return of all abducted persons.

She said the civilian population in an area already exhausted by 16 years of conflict, had become even more vulnerable as a result of the renewed hostilities. She called on both sides to guarantee safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all of northern Uganda, where an estimated 800,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.