Communities in Northern Uganda must be heard in Peace Talks

By mborum

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KAMPALA, UGANDA — Results from a new study released by Oxfam today reveal that despite positive steps made in the ongoing peace talks in Juba, many of Northern Uganda’s communities fear that their interests are not taken into account. The communities are also doubtful that peace will prevail in their region where conflict and rampant insecurity could reignite in the absence of a signed agreement.
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>Though more than half of those surveyed, 57%, said that security had improved since the start of peace talks in July 2006 and 60.5% were hopeful that conditions would improve further, people remain highly skeptical over the peace prospects. Some 85% of respondents agreed that achieving a formal peace agreement was the most important challenge that had to be tackled for peace to prevail. The vast majority of focus group respondents felt they were not adequately informed or consulted about the peace process and feared that the commitment of the negotiating parties might not last until a successful end of the negotiations.
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>Oxfam also found that many people see freedom of movement as being crucial to peace. A majority of respondents, 83.8 %, said that peace for them signified the freedom of movement to farm their fields and return to the homelands compared with 70.6% who said that peace to them meant the absence of fighting.
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>Conducted in eleven internally displaced people (IDP) camps in the Acholi region of northern Uganda with 600 survey respondents and 91 focus group discussants, the study shows that a large part of the population will only feel that their region is finally at peace once thorny issues ranging from general insecurity to resettlement are addressed. Many of those interviewed still believe that their views are not being adequately heard.
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>“This survey speaks volumes and aims to amplify the voices of the victims. It highlights the continuing urgency of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement but of equal importance is the need for a parallel process that addresses the needs and concerns of the affected communities,” said Savio Carvalho, Oxfam Uganda Country Manager.
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>In an Oxfam report released today to coincide with the survey’s results, “ Building Blocks for Peace,” the international agency urged the Government of Uganda and the LRA, with the support of the international community, to ensure that strong foundations are laid now that will support the building blocks for sustainable peace. Improving security, engaging more robustly with communities affected by the conflict and scaling up resettlement and essential services assistance are all vital to this process. Establishing viable justice and accountability mechanisms is also crucial. Many of the affected communities interviewed stated that justice without peace serves no purpose; but they also felt that some form of justice needs to be served without knowing how exactly it could be administered.
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>Even though fear of attack and abduction by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels has diminished significantly, communities still continue to face a range of security threats from other armed groups in the region. Uncertainty over the prospects for peace in particular stops many people leaving the congested IDP camps.
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>Many of those interviewed expressed their fears: “I am still haunted by the past. If I see a stranger when I am alone, or if a dog barks, I get scared. The peace talks are still not finalized. The Karamojong are still raiding us. It’s not yet peace,” said a man from Mucwini camp.
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>Since the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was signed, some 900,000 people have left the camps entirely, many building shelter in or close to their places of origin. But about half have either stayed in the squalid camps, or have relocated to new sites, many in remote locations where they are living without proper access to safe water and sanitation. Just over half (53%) of the communities surveyed said that there had been no development in their region since the ceasefire began. The affected communities identified the squalid conditions and confined space of the camps as among the major factors that caused their suffering. Some 45% of the respondents describe life in the camps as “not peaceful.”
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>Many interviewees said that the conditions in the camps remained unbearable despite security improvements: “Women continue to face a lot of problems; men go out and drink, there are not enough schools, there are many pregnancies. Yes, there are no more gun shots, but other than that things are the same,” claimed a woman interviewed in Madi Opei Camp.
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>“The very serious effects of this decades-long civil war are still acutely felt. Now is the time to build on gains made over the past year and assist communities in returning to a normal life,” said Mr. Carvalho. “Essential services such as water and healthcare in areas of return must be improved while existing levels of assistance helping those living in camps need to be maintained. Without continued and consistent aid – both to those who remain in the camps and those who return to their areas of origin – hundreds of thousands of lives will be at risk.”
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