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World must intervene in Uganda
World must intervene in Uganda
Lloyd Axworthy
July 15, 2003
Former Canadian foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy said Tuesday that suffering in northern Uganda's civil war has reached the point that it cannot be solved locally and requires urgent international intervention. Mr. Axworthy — who is now director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia — said he is encouraged by the "enormous heroism" he has seen displayed by many Ugandans, but also that the situation is now so dire that "they no longer know what to do." "[Fighting] has accelerated in the last several months to a point where the degree of suffering and tragedy and violation has now so totally demoralized the population and has so frustrated any attempts at peace negotiation that there is a cry for help from the people of that area," he told reporters in Ottawa. The call for humanitarian intervention comes a day after Prime Minister Jean Chrétien pitched a summit of 14 centre-left national leaders his plan for broad guidelines to prevent genocide and ethnic cleansing. Mr. Chrétien proposed the use of international bodies other than the United Nations, if the UN were unable to act. The other leaders, however, were reluctant to agree to such a broader approach, insisting in the final communiqué that the UN is the only body with the legitimacy to authorize a humanitarian intervention. Speaking in Ottawa to mark the release of a report from the Liu Institute, Mr. Axworthy called on international community to intervene quickly in Uganda's civil war, which pits the government of Yoweri Museveni against a ragtag bunch of fighters known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and led by a shadowy mystic. "It is not just the LRA, although they are the main perpetrators," he said. "They have been the major rebel group, working out of southern Sudan for the past years. But, in March of 2002, the Ugandan government undertook a military operation as part of a counterterrorist campaign called 'Iron Fist.' The result was counterproductive, it simply forced the LRA back into the country, where they started retaliation." In the countryside, families and their children are terrified of the LRA, which has swelled its ranks by abducting teens and pre-teens for training as guerrillas. Several examples have been widely publicized — as when a school dormitory was raided and scores of teenage girls taken away — but the practice has mostly been ignored by the world. The war is, as Mr. Axworthy described it, "invisible to many people." Hundreds of children are believed to be taken from their homes every week and an estimated 20,000 sleep rough every night, afraid to stay home for fear of being press-ganged. "It is becoming, really, an inferno, particularly for the children," Mr. Axworthy said. The violence has also spread to include regular attacks on food convoys, aid workers and churches. Close to one million people now live in Displaced Persons camps, where social conventions have collapsed and rape, assault, kidnapping and violation are common, Mr. Axworthy said. Sexually transmitted diseases and HIV are on the rise in the camps. "When we had the Winnipeg conference on child protection in the fall of 2000, certain commitments were made — by our government and by other governments — to provide protection for children," he added. "We're here to call [for] those commitments to be lived up to. This really is a prime example of promises made and now we need to have those promises kept."
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