Catholics and NGO Rally to End War in Northern Uganda

Nov 18, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Kampala, Uganda - Civil organizations and the Catholic Church have intensified efforts to bring peace to the war-ravaged region of Northern Uganda. In the face of a mounting humanitarian crisis, the groups have been trying to create awareness about the economic fallout from war. MD Uganda, a Danish non-governmental organization, has released a study stating that the war would cost an equivalent of $26 million, or ten percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

Father John Frazer, a Catholic Priest and director of an FM radio station, said that the church has already met with the International Rescue Committee and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to see how the alliance can contribute. Other NGOs that have already agreed to work together include the Help the Children of Africa Initiative, and Peace Forum, which has announced numerous human rights abuses in the region.

The alliance is being created in the wake of increasing public skepticism over the government's ability to extinguish the Lords Resistance Army, a group that has fought a war of rebellion for the past sixteen years. Although the resistance from the LRA continues, an estimated thirty-thousand soldiers have been deployed in the region to combat them, and significant progress has been made since last march. Army Commander, Lt. Gen James Kazini says that since that time, the LRA has lost over half of its troops, and bases and weaponry in Sudan valued at $5 million have been captured. Kazini maintains that it is only a matter of time before the LRA will be pushed into the dustbin of history.

The Catholic Church and NGOs have voiced skepticism over whether continued military action is the best solution. The number of people displaced because of the fighting has been recorded at about 500,000. The grim situation of the displacements has lead to the relocation of 15,000 Sudanese refugees from the war zone.

"We have been told even by Museveni (President Yoweri) of the weakness in the army," says Bishop Onono Oneng of the Gulu diocese, who adds that the rebel Lord's Resistance Army LRA had no regard to human life.

However, Musevini has responded to the NGO and Catholic Church concerns, and on October 14, appointed Eriya Kategaya as the second Deputy Prime Minister to head the government's negotiating team. But despite this appointment, the government has shown reluctance to fully come to a resolution. While negotiators have offered an olive branch to the rebels, the government's actions betray the facilitation of peace. The detention of two Catholic Priests, and the arrest of 20 peace facilitators described as collaborators who will be charged with treason, has kept the LGA at bay.

Bishop Onono is reluctant that the government and the LRA can come to terms, especially because the LRA has not generated peace terms on their own.

In addition, the government has taken up fighting the LRA on another front. A recent propaganda campaign, featuring grisly photos of beheaded people and cooking pots containing alleged body parts, was launched through the state-owned New Vision newspaper. This action shows the determination of the government to demonize the LRA in the eyes of the Ugandans.

"New Vision is an up market paper which rarely uses such pictures, but we wanted to prove to doubting Thomases how bad Kony (leader of the rebel forces) can be," David Sseppuuya, Deputy Editor of the newspaper told Monitor FM radio station.

However, others found the propagandist strategy to be inappropriate. "We already know how bad Kony is and we have been told on and on. But the pictures only added to our grief and they were in bad taste," said Dr Sylvia Tamale, a senior lecturer in Law at Makerere University.

Japhet Biyimba, an officer of MS Uganda, says that the belligerence within society must change in order to stop the war. "The major crisis facing Uganda is about leadership. We have grown up in an environment where we have not established mechanisms to resolve our problems peacefully," he says."

By Roy Li