AFRICA/UGANDA -: “The army and rebels are locked in mortal combat to destroy each other but innocent citizens pay the price” Catholic Archbishop of Gulu tells Fides

Tuesday, 24 February 2004

Kampala (Fides Service)- “This is a human tragedy, a human tragedy ” Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu repeats again and again over the phone to Fides Service. Gulu is in northern Uganda where rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army LRA continue to attack civilians. Over the last seven days at least 200 people were killed in LRA attacks on a refugee camp at Barlonyo just north of the town of Lira.
“They army and the rebels do not trust each other and until they do there can be no dialogue” Archbishop Odama said. “ They are locked in mortal combat to destroy each other and innocent citizens pay the price”.
“So far no one has heard the cry of the people being massacred. I have just returned from a long journey through Europe and to North America to tell people about the tragic situation in northern Uganda. Thank God I found people willing to listen and anxious to do something to help the people suffering because of the war” Archbishop Odama said. “I visited the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany and Italy. On the whole I met with good will and a spirit of collaboration in the Church and on the part of governments which promised humanitarian aid for war refugees. ”.
“I am convinced that peace is possible if government and rebels accept two conditions: restore measures to build reciprocal trust and declare a cease fire agreement” the Archbishop of Gulu said. “On then can we have dialogue commence and a return to peace”.
“We must also consider that the war in Uganda has regional and international dimensions. So Uganda must not be left alone. The international community must help us find the way out of this tragedy. It is true that for many years the Ugandan government said the war was a domestic issue and refused foreign intervention. But now I see signs of a change of attitude from the government. I hope this will elad to a turning point ”.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, formed of mostly Acholi tribesmen, has been fighting since 1986 the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who took power in that year overthrowing a military junta made up mostly of Acholi men. The former militia of the ethnic group, taking refuge in Sudan formed various guerrilla groups one of them being the LRA. Besides being an ethnic group the LRA is also based on ideology of religious syncretism mixing elements of Christianity and Islam with those of traditional African religions. Aware of this, local religious leaders have taken an active part n promoting talks with the rebels to restore peace. Members of Catholic Church have often been a victims of LRA violence. We recall that on May 11 this year the rebels kidnapped a group of seminarians from Lachor seminary, and many priests have been among the number of those killed by the rebels in recent years. In March this year the LRA declared a cease fire but it never came in force. (L.M.) )(Agenzia Fides 23/2/2004, righe 44 parole 534)