Increased Insecurity Threatens Assistance in Northern Uganda

Kampala, 23 November 2005 — Increasing insecurity, characterized by violent ambushes on civilian and humanitarian vehicles in the past weeks, will severely impact the already desperate situation of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the civil conflict in northern Uganda, according to the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF calls upon all parties in the region to respect the freedom of movement of civilians and the independence and safety of humanitarian aid workers while ensuring their right to unhindered access to people in need of assistance. Assistance to displaced people living in northern Uganda has been woefully inadequate and will be reduced further if this insecurity persists, warns MSF. This issue must be urgently addressed.

"The recent spate of killings of aid workers and civilians in northern Uganda only highlights the ongoing insecurity and lack of protection faced by the people living in this region. These incidents threaten the assistance provided to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict, who are living in deplorable conditions and barely managing to survive," said Amaia Esparza, Head of Mission for MSF in Uganda.

At present, MSF medical programs in the Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, and Pader districts of northern Uganda continue to provide assistance to displaced people living in camps although MSF international staff has been reduced and movements restricted due to the recent insecurity. In addition, MSF has halted emergency transfers of patients in MSF vehicles and suspended water and sanitation activities in several camps, including the drilling of bore holes to provide much-needed water for displaced people in some camps in Kitgum. The recent murders of humanitarian aid workers have also limited the presence and services provided by many other humanitarian non-governmental organizations in the region.

Three ambushes on civilian vehicles occurred in Kitgum and Pader during the last five days. Twenty people were killed and at least 14 injured people have been admitted into two hospitals in Kitgum. The ambush in Kitgum targeted a civilian vehicle which was carrying four patients from the MSF clinic in Agoro. Fortunately the patients escaped, but the driver of the car was killed.

MSF has raised the issue of the safety of civilians and the lack of meaningful assistance in northern Uganda as a major concern on a number of occasions, including in a report released in December 2004. Yet, almost one year later, the situation for displaced people in northern Uganda remains deplorable and will only deteriorate further if the current insecurity persists.