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UGANDA: Death toll in rebel attack on IDPs camp rises to 39

NAIROBI, 18 May 2004 (IRIN) - The death toll in an attack by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels on Pagak camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda on Sunday has risen to 39, the UN said.

A third of the camp's total population of about 11,000 people had left for nearby camps and Gulu town, 24 km away. A UN team had visited the camp on Monday and found that 544 huts had been burned, a statement issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

"The UN Country Team in Uganda has condemned this appalling atrocity, which follows similar attacks against civilians of Barlonyo on 21 February and Odek on 29 April 2004," the statement said. "The UN is monitoring the situation and will go back to the site in the coming days."

According to the UN, the situation in northern Uganda has deteriorated sharply since 2002 with the number of IDPs and those in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection increasing from 800,000 to over 1.6 million.

"Children and women in particular have suffered enormously. The [rebels] have abducted more than 10,000 children since June 2002, the highest number since the insurgency began. All children are at risk of being abducted, forced to fight and commit atrocities, and subjected to sexual violence and sexual slavery," the statement added.

According to the UN, tens of thousands of children, who are referred to as "night commuters", leave their homes each evening, seeking protection in towns. In Kitgum, Gulu and Kalongo, there are 50,000 night commuters.

The statement noted that the UN had launched a Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for US $109 million to meet the humanitarian needs of vulnerable populations in 2004. "With the year nearly half over, only some $22 million, just 20 percent of the funds required have been donated," it noted.

The rebels attacked the camp on Sunday evening. The army spokesman, Maj Shaban Bantariza, told IRIN that they had attacked in three prongs: one attacked the camp, a second one attacked the soldiers guarding it and the third concentrated on the patrol units.

"The group that attacked the camp set ablaze dozens of grass-thatched huts to create confusion, then looted food and abducted people, whom they forced to carry their loot for a distance before they killed them along with their babies," Bantariza said.

The LRA has waged war against the Ugandan government for 18 years in the north, frequently attacking villages and trading centres, murdering or torturing civilians and abducting children for forcible recruitment as soldiers, porters or sex slaves. In February, the rebels killed hundreds of IDPs when they attacked a camp in Barlonyo, near Lira town. The army blamed the deaths on the laxity of local commanders, who, it said, had allowed the IDPs to set up a camp in an area that was not well protected.

Theme (s): Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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