Ugandan Rebels Free Five IRC Aid Workers
The Lord's Resistance Army has freed five International Rescue Committee aid workers who were abducted Monday (Aug. 5) when the rebel group attacked a refugee camp in northern Uganda where the IRC provides humanitarian assistance.
The aid workers, all Ugandan citizens, and a Ugandan policeman who had also been held captive, were released Saturday afternoon (Aug. 10). The group arrived in the town of Lira Sunday afternoon, where they were welcomed by colleagues who are assisting refugees displaced from Monday's attack.
"They are exhausted, but unharmed, and sounded happy and extremely relieved when I spoke with them on the telephone," said Timothy Bishop, the IRC's director of programs in Uganda, from his office in Kampala.
The IRC's president, George Rupp, said, "We are thankful that our colleagues are safe. Now we are focusing on bringing much needed assistance to the refugees and displaced people of Uganda who have been uprooted by the recent violence."
The abducted aid workers said they were freed in the bush Saturday afternoon and made their way to the village of Puranga. From there they hitchhiked a ride toward the town of Lira. Six miles outside town, they chanced upon an IRC vehicle in which they completed the last leg of their trip.
Monday's raid on Achol-Pii Refugee Camp left the site in ruins and drove out some 24,000 Sudanese refugees who were living there. The United Nations estimates that 50 people were killed in the attack and dozens more were injured.
The LRA seized the IRC aid workers during the assault and later demanded that a statement, relayed to the IRC via satellite phone, be broadcast on an international radio station in exchange for the release of the captives.
The BBC's Focus on Africa program interviewed Timothy Bishop, who summarized the rebels' demands, in a program that aired Wednesday. Subsequently, the BBC spoke to the hostages for a report that was broadcast the following day.
In their statement, the rebels said the attack on Achol-Pii was in retaliation for the recent killing of LRA supporters by the Ugandan military and southern Sudanese rebels. The statement accused Sudan's government and the United Nations of supporting a Ugandan government campaign against the rebels.
Finally, the rebels warned that all U.N. and non-governmental organizations cease operations and leave northern Uganda and southern Sudan by August 14 - they would face renewed attacks.
The IRC is working with the United Nations to relocate the refugees from Achol-Pii to a safer camp in Masindi District and is providing emergency medical assistance for the refugees. In a weekend briefing in Geneva, U.N. spokesman Kris Janowski made clear that the relocation effort is not in response to the rebel ultimatum.
Meanwhile, all but five of the 42 IRC staff members who were missing after Monday's attack have been accounted for. The IRC is working to locate the remaining five. The IRC had been overseeing humanitarian programs at Achol-Pii for more than two years, distributing food and providing health, education, and agricultural services at the camp.