Between Hope and Fear in Northern Uganda: Challenges on the ground and urgent need for peace | Lord's Resistance Army | Uganda

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Uganda is at a critical point in its history. After over 20 years of cyclical conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda, the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement signed on 26 August 2006 and last extended on 16 December 2006 has given new hope to conflict affected communities that peace may finally prevail. While there is no explicit deadline to the agreement, the signatories agree that the “implementation of the agreement shall be reviewed at the end of February 2007”. There is widespread fear in affected communities that this could signal a lapse in the agreement and a return to violence. As negotiations appear to be at an impasse it is vitally important that the parties come together as soon as possible to reaffirm their commitment to the ceasefire. Peace talks must be resumed before it is too late and the apparent deadlock reaches the point of no return. The victims of the conflict, many of whom have spent their whole lives in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), are eager to return to their land to restart a normal life. The respite in fighting has encouraged an estimated 300 0001 internally displaced people to return home or to move from crowded camps into designated sites closer to, or in most cases even within, their areas of origin. However, uncertainty over the prospects for peace stops many people leaving the camps. About 1.3 million people remain displaced, living in squalid camps without proper access to safe water and sanitary facilities. Those who moved to new sites endorsed by the district authorities, or returned home, now struggle with the poor conditions there. They remain dependent on food from the World Food Programme. New sites often do not have safe and clean water, schools, and health centres. Sometimes they do not have military protection from potential LRA attacks. Nine months of respite from fighting has given the victims of the conflict a chance to begin a process of recovery. However, the problems they encounter are only surmountable with the full support of their government and the international community. Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU), a coalition of 65 national and international NGOs operational in northern Uganda, calls on the government of Uganda, the LRA and the International Community not to betray the hopes of Ugandans that talks will deliver a just and lasting peace, and to urgently provide the protection and support necessary for the affected communities to begin to rebuild their lives.
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  1 Between Hope and Fear in Northern Uganda: Challenges on the Ground and an Urgent Need for PeaceSummary Uganda is at a critical point in its history. After over 20 years of cyclical conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda, the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement signed on 26 August 2006 and last extended on 16 December 2006 has given new hope to conflict affected communities that peace may finally prevail. While there is no explicit deadline to the agreement, the signatories agree that the “implementation of the agreement shall be reviewed at the end of February 2007”. There is widespread fear in affected communities that this could signal a lapse in the agreement and a return to violence. As negotiations appear to be at an impasse it is vitally important that the parties come together as soon as possible to reaffirm their commitment to the ceasefire. Peace talks must be resumed before it is too late and the apparent deadlock reaches the point of no return.The victims of the conflict, many of whom have spent their whole lives in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), are eager to return to their land to restart a normal life. The respite in fighting has encouraged an estimated 300 000 1  internally displaced people to return home or to move from crowded camps into designated sites closer to, or in most cases even within, their areas of srcin. However, uncertainty over the prospects for peace stops many people leaving the camps. About 1.3 million people remain displaced, living in squalid camps without proper access to safe water and sanitary facilities. Those who moved to new sites endorsed by the district authorities, or returned home, now struggle with the poor conditions there. They remain dependent on food from the World Food Programme. New sites often do not have safe and clean water, schools, and health centres. Sometimes they do not have military protection from potential LRA attacks. Nine months of respite from fighting has given the victims of the conflict a chance to begin a process of recovery. However, the problems they encounter are only surmountable with the full support of their government and the international community. Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (CSOPNU), a coalition of 65 national and international NGOs operational in northern Uganda, calls on the government of Uganda, the LRA and the International Community not to betray the hopes of Ugandans that talks will deliver a just and lasting peace, and to urgently provide the protection and support necessary for the affected communities to begin to rebuild their lives. 1 UN OCHA Consolidated Appeals Process Uganda 2007, p. 1.  2 1. The Urgent Need for Peace Despite the initial success of the Juba peace talks and the breakthrough achievement of the Cessation of Hostilities agreement of 26 August 2006, the process seems to have reached an impasse. All stakeholders represented at the talks, with the encouragement and support of the international community, must ensure that the progress made over the last six months in northern Uganda is not lost and can continue. The stakes for people on the ground could hardly be higher. The civilian population has borne the brunt of the conflict. Frequently subjected to attacks and living in conditions that made them prone todiseases, they have suffered a terrible plight. Community members frequently express concern that the only sustainable solution to the conflict will be through a peacefully negotiated settlement. If the peace talks fail, people fear attacks on civilians will resume. Those who have left the camps fear they will have to give up their newly gained freedom, land and shelter and return to the confinement of the camps. Those who remain in the camps fear they will not be able to leave them and that they will again be vulnerable to attacks should hostilities resume. For the sake of the victims of the conflict, and in order to preserve the first successes of recovery, it is essential that the government of Uganda, the LRA, and the international community do not give up on the peace process, but each do their part to revive it. The international community’s role in support of the peace process Neighbouring governments, the UN system, donor governments and other interested parties must allstrengthen their important role in supporting the parties to negotiate a just and lasting peace. Key governments should use their influence to bring both parties back to the negotiating table by encouraging them to renew their commitment to the Cessation of Hostility agreement and by  A Community Manifesto for Peace In community meetings held in two sub-counties of Pader between 23 and 25 November 2006, and in Kitgum on 13-14 February, groups of Internally Displaced Persons expressed their desire for peace and agreed on ways through which both the government of Uganda and the LRA could help to bring them closer to their greatest need: peace. The recommendations made in these meetings are summarized in the quotes below. “The war has been going on for over 20 years; guns will not resolve it.” “Forgiveness should lead those who negotiate peace on our behalf.” “All the stakeholders in the peace process, the Government of Uganda, the LRA, the government of southern Sudan, and the International Criminal Court, have to understand the need of us victims for a peaceful and speedy end of negotiations and the signing of a peace agreement.” “The mediator should take courage and not compromise his impartiality. He should ask for reinforcement from the AU and other state actors respected by both the LRA and the Government of Uganda.” “The Government has to continue to protect us even when we go back home”.“The World must not leave Uganda and the LRA alone, they help the communities with food and water, but what we need most of all is peace. They should help us here with peace, as they do in other countries”   3 encouraging further confidence building mechanisms such as the ones undertaken in the course of the last year including, importantly, strengthening trust that security for the LRA in the assembly areas is ensured. The recent appointment of former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano as a UN Special Envoy, while a very important and encouraging step, will not on its own break the logjam if his efforts are not supported and complemented by a significant and concerted push for peace by other stakeholders.The African Union, for its part, has failed to engage in what has been one of the longest running conflicts on the continent. Unlike the UN Security Council, the AU has never addressed the conflict and the Juba talks at its Peace and Security Council. In addition, the request in the Cessation of Hostilities agreement that the AU deploy observers for the Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team has not been fulfilled. For its part, the Government of Uganda needs to be supported and encouraged in its commitment to the peace process and the Cessation of Hostilities, particularly stipulations relating to the Ugandan  Army and the deployment of Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF)in southern Sudan. Efforts also need to be made, including through direct contact with the senior military leadership, to persuade the LRA to resume negotiations and renew their commitment to the Cessation of Hostilities agreement. Special Envoy Chissano should be provided with any necessary support to bolster his efforts in this regard. Neighbouring governments, donor governments, senior leaders in the UN system and other stakeholders are urged to do the following:  Call on the parties to publicly renew their commitment to the Cessation of Hostilities  Agreement and set out a timetable for the resumption of talks;  Encourage the Government of Uganda to adhere to stipulations relating to UPDF deployment in southern Sudan;  Call on the LRA to abstain from acts of violence against civilians;  Urge the LRA to release children and women in a humanitarian gesture and as a confidence building measure as suggested by former UN Emergency Coordinator, Jan Egeland;  Support the special Envoy in his efforts to have direct contact with LRA negotiators an military leadership and consider, in due course and if necessary, additional means of engaging directly with the senior leadership;  Push for active engagement by the AU and key AU member states, including setting up an AU monitoring office in Uganda, maintaining pressure for renewal of the ceasefire agreement, and formal engagement by the AU Peace and Security Council;  Urge both parties to the conflict and the government of Sudan to avoid inflammatory statements that undermine the fragile degree of trust that has been established in the talks. 2. Fragile Steps Forward: The impact of the cessation of hostilities on people’s livesIncreased freedom of movement and return and resettlement of IDPs Since peace talks between the government of Uganda and the LRA started in mid-July 2006, for the first time after years of confinement, many in the affected communities have moved freely in and out of the IDP camps and taken the first steps towards rebuilding their lives. The parties to the conflict were quick to agree to the Cessation of Hostilities (August 26 th ), which bolstered confidence in the peace process. This was an historic agreement and a major step towards peace in Northern Uganda.  4 It is estimated that even in the most severely affected region of Acholiland, 150 000 2  people have returned to their homes or moved to designated sites closer to their villages of srcin. 3  All district authorities have created so-called ‘safe areas’: areas where communities are completely free to settle where they wish. The declaration of safe-areas is a specifically important development that ought to be encouraged and expanded. 3. Challenges for Return and Resettlement While communities cling desperately to the hope for peace, and have begun in some areas to take the first fragile steps towards return and resettlement, huge challenges remain. Fear of Violence The primary concern of the displaced people is for their security – whether they leave the camps to travel or to settle in new areas. For many there is a strong desire to leave the camps, which are tarnished by memories of abductions, mutilations, massacres and rapes.  Although the people who have suffered the immediate impact of years of fighting want to remain 2  As opposed to the above estimation of 300 000 for the whole of the LRA affected regions in northern Uganda, this figure only refers to Acholi region, where the most severely affected districts lie. 3  UN OCHA Consolidated Appeals Uganda 2007, p2.  A case study 1: PalabekGem Camp in Kitgum District, northern Uganda Palabek Gem was established as a camp in 1997. It lies an approximate 30 kilometres from the border with southern Sudan inside Kitgum District. It is not one of the most vulnerable sites - lying in open grassland, the camp was difficult for the LRA to approach unseen. Yet signs of past LRA attacks are everywhere. The road to the camp winds past a number of unmarked sites where dozens of people are said to have been ambushed, killed or abducted. At one side of Palabek Gem, two small school buildings stand at an angle that forms a little square. One of the buildings is burnt out and is used for storage. During the conflict pupils were abducted from their classes on repeated occasions, their teachers were killed, and the building burnt. Many of the children who were seized from Palabek Gem over the years are still unaccounted for.Four out of the five parishes displaced to Palabek Gem are now preparing to move from the congested camps to escape the confinement and the disease there. In the newly designated sites, mostly located in their parishes of srcin, the population hopes to progressively regain their independent livelihoods through cultivating their own land. Palabek Gem Population December 2006 before movement started: 13,239 Palabek Gem Population on 14 February 2007: 9,233 New designated sites established since August 2006 as on 14 February 2007*:  Ayuu Anaka: Current Population: 1900Expected: 2478Gem MeddeCurrent Population: 264Expected: 2051Labworoyeng: Current Population: 340Expected: 3751Paweno Current Population: 2040 Expected: 2833Likiliki: Current Population: 62 Expected: 2415  All numbers as per information kindly provided by Palabek Gem Camp Commander Quinto on 23 February 2007. As the situation continues to evolve rapidly, numbers can only be estimates.
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