Ugandan Rebels Issue Ultimatum for Release of IRC Aid Workers
The International Rescue Committee continues negotiating for the release of four IRC aid workers being held captive by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The IRC staff members, all men and Ugandan citizens, were abducted early Monday when the rebels attacked and destroyed the Achol-Pii refugee camp in northern Uganda, where the IRC has been overseeing humanitarian aid programs for two years.
On Wednesday, the rebels telephoned the IRC’s office in the capital Kampala and issued a statement that they demanded be broadcast by an international radio station in exchange for the release of the hostages.
The rebel statement, relayed to the IRC by Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Colonel Charles Taboule, states that Monday’s attack was in retaliation for recent efforts by the Ugandan military and southern Sudanese rebels “to wipe out the LRA,” in southern Sudan.
The LRA also accuses Sudan’s government and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) of supporting the operation.
Finally, the LRA demanded that United Nations and nongovernmental aid organizations cease operations and leave northern Uganda and southern Sudan by August 14. “Failure to comply with this—history will repeat itself,” the LRA said.
The rebel statement has not been broadcast verbatim, but on Wednesday the BBC’s Focus On Africa program did air an interview with Timothy Bishop, head of IRC programs in Uganda, about the contents of the statement and his discussions with the LRA to win the release of staff. Bishop said the LRA assured him that a Ugandan military base in the camp, not the IRC, had been the target of the attack. Bishop told the BBC he is pleading with the LRA to release the IRC aid workers soon and safely.
The LRA called Bishop Thursday morning to say the interview did not satisfy the group’s demands. But they agreed to let the BBC interview all four captives via satellite telephone, for a program to be aired later in the day. They said that after the interview was broadcast, the LRA would consider whether or not to release the IRC aid workers on Friday.
In the report, Paul Kalama, one of the captives, said he and his three colleagues have been made to walk long distances, and are not sure where they are, but believe they are still in Uganda. He said they are exhausted, but have been treated relatively well by their captors.
Meanwhile, the IRC is still trying to track nearly 30 staff members who remain unaccounted for since Monday’s attack on Achol-Pii Camp. Aid workers fled the camp along with some 24-thousand Sudanese refugees who lived there. Most headed south to two nearby towns.
The IRC is coordinating with the United Nations to get food and other emergency assistance to the refugees and relocate them to a new site. The Ugandan government has indicated that Achol-Pii is safe enough for their return. But Bishop says the security situation there is still shaky and favors moving them to safer area.
On Monday, the IRC’s president George Rupp described the attack on innocent civilians and aid workers as an outrage. “The International Rescue Committee strongly urges the government of Uganda to act decisively to restore the security that has for so long eluded the people of northern Uganda and the refugees who have sought shelter there,” he said.