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This article was published in the Hampshire Chronicle on Thursday 9th March 2006. It is reproduced with the kind permission of that newspaper.

Bishop of Winchester calls for humanitarian action in Uganda

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, has called for action in the House of Lords on the humanitarian and cultural disaster in northern Uganda.

The region and its people have suffered human rights abuses for more than 19 years by the rebel force, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

In 2003, Jan Egeland, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, described the situation in northern Uganda as worse than Iraq, or anywhere else in the world. The UN has since continued to highlight the problem of child abduction by the rebels to serve as sex slaves and child soldiers.

There is mass movement of adults and children fleeing from their homes in northern Uganda, due to this threat of abduction by the LRA. Several hundred thousand displaced people are now in this area, many without shelter and basic food.

The Diocese of Winchester, which the Bishop leads, has strong links with dioceses in Northern Uganda, with established partnerships and visits undertaken by people in the deaneries in Alresford, Andover and Alton.

Bishop Michael and the diocese's partnership officer, Mervyn Jones, visited Northern Uganda at the beginning of the year and were appalled at the scenes they saw and the numbers in the camps for displaced people who had escaped persecution.

In the House of Lords last week, the Bishop called on the Government to encourage the government of Uganda to declare the north a disaster zone and call for international assistance.

In reply, Lord Triesman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: "Ending the conflict in northern Uganda is a priority.

"We encourage Uganda to fulfil its responsibilities, including taking all steps to protect the people, to effect the warrants for the Lord's Resistance Army commanders and to encourage LRA members not indicted to benefit from amnesty provisions.

"We recognise the conflict's growing regional impact, and we were instrumental in securing the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1653 condemning the LRA."

Bishop Michael then said: "Will the Government encourage the government of Uganda to declare the north a disaster zone and invite outside assistance of every appropriate kind?"

Following the Lords session, Bishop Michael said: "After 19 years of the unresolved war, half the parishes of the diocese are in the Internally Displaced Persons Camps - a scandalous 1.5m people across Northern Uganda.

"Much of the diocese has been, and may well again be, insecure and at the LRA's mercy. When Bishop Charles Odurkami, who I met and travelled with eight years ago, was in this country and staying with us, we heard that the LRA had put a price on his head because he had denounced them so cleariy.

"You will have read, too, in the papers that Uganda is in the throes of an election campaign, widely regarded as to a significant extent corrupt, for the presidency and for the parliament."

Bishop Michael speaks and preaches regularly on the situation in Northern Uganda. He has called on the UK Government for action on a number of occasions, questioning it on specific assistance that is needed and continuing to bring the matter to national prominence.

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