Diary - Helen Mirren

Trying to convince some Ugandan former child soldiers that I'd be a good ambassador for them, I talk

It's so strange coming back to the UK after a week with the Acholi people in northern Uganda. The newspapers and the airwaves are full of the David Blunkett scandal - while the killing in Uganda remains ignored. It strikes me as amazing that we manage to ignore the fact that 20,000 children have been abducted by the fanatical Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). I was in Kitgum town with Oxfam. Aid workers can't venture more than 3km from town for fear of their life. I met former abductees, peace campaigners, and people living in displaced people's camps. I also met some of the thousands of "night commuters" - children who walk in to Kitgum every night to flee the LRA's night raids. I talked to children who couldn't look me in the eye, they were so traumatised.

There was one very embarrassing moment during the trip. I was introducing myself to a group of former child soldiers and I wanted to convince them that I would be a decent message-bearer for them, that the media and politicians might actually listen to at least some of what I said. So off I went explaining that I was an actress and had been in this and that. I looked around and realised that most of these children had spent most of their lives in the bush and probably had never watched television, let alone know what films I've been in.

At first I didn't want to go to northern Uganda, but I'm of the opinion that it is good to do what scares you most. I've fought fear all my life and I used to have huge anxiety attacks. When I first went to school my old headmistress - a wonderful old nun - saw how terrified I was and said: "Fear is the most destructive thing in life." She was right. I have a great admiration for fearless people, whom I try to emulate. I'm not saying you should be foolhardy or stupid but it's important not to let fear take a grip.

Too many people know nothing about this war, which has been raging for 18 years. And I have to admit that before signing up for this Oxfam mission, I didn't have any idea of the scale of the crisis unfolding here. Every week, over the past two years, about 500 children have been abducted. Nearly two million people have been made homeless and hundreds of thousands have been killed. It is a war that comes in waves. It goes quiet for a while and everyone hopes it has gone away, but it comes back again and again, each time worse than the last. The LRA continues to fight a guerrilla war with the government of Uganda, ostensibly in a desire to overthrow President Yoweri Museveni, restore order and legitimacy to the state of Uganda, and cleanse the nation through the establishment of a government that will rule in accordance with the LRA's "Ten Commandments". It also pledges to rebuild the Acholi nation and culture, which the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, believes to have been tainted by evil.

We should all identify with the horror of what is happening in northern Uganda because this is a war on children, where boys are trained to be killers and girls are forced to be sex slaves. I don't see how the world can stand by and do nothing. The people are desperate for the attention of the west and yet we still ignore it. Despite 18 years of war, the UN Security Council has never passed a single resolution on the subject. Such a resolution would at least signal that the world cared and was watching.

Many governments have failed to speak out against a military solution and in favour of peace. I don't know if the British government has a strategy. I don't know if it thinks about it seriously at all. So far, they have failed to rally international support for a coherent peace process. They need to bring pressure to bear on the government of Uganda to pursue peace and they need to put the spotlight of the world on the situation. It's not a question of aid: what these people need is peace, and the world needs to broker peace and to make clear to the rebels that they are on the road to nowhere.

There is a glimmer of hope, with a peace process in its first tentative stages.

But the international community and the British government must do more to ensure that this historic opportunity for peace in northern Uganda is seized.

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