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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
13 November 2006

UGANDA: Gov't urged to probe reported abuses during disarmament

KAMPALA, 13 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - The Ugandan government should investigate reports of loss of life and other human-rights abuses during the ongoing disarmament programme in the northeastern region of Karamoja, the United Nations said.

"The United Nations in Uganda expresses grave concerns about the escalating violence and consequent loss of life, property and human dignity in Kotido District," the UN’s acting humanitarian coordinator in Uganda, Theophane Nikyema, said in a statement on Friday.

An inter-agency assessment team led by the United Nations and including NGOs, he added, had found evidence of significant loss of life and property in the region, including the displacement of at least 2,000 civilians. It had also received multiple allegations of serious human-rights abuses committed on all sides that warrant further detailed investigation.

"The team was disturbed by the apparent lack of reconciliatory or confidence-building initiatives being undertaken to avoid future such incidents," Nikyema added.

According to the report, the abuses were mainly committed in Lopuyo, Rengen subcounty. Heavy fighting erupted here between the Ugandan army and Jie warriors on 29 October during an army cordon and search operation, leading to significant loss of life to both parties. "At least 48 persons were killed including women and children. Local authorities reported that at least 500 to 800 persons outside Kotido town lost all property," the report added.

An estimated 27 people, including 16 government troops, were killed in the area days earlier. Locals claimed the subsequent fighting resulted from a retaliatory attack by the army. “There continues to be displacement of more than 2,000 civilians from that community and within Kotido town itself, although some have begun returning home,” Nikyema noted.

The Ugandan military said the allegations were designed to tarnish the force’s name and that they would be investigated and results be made public.

"Of course the incident at Lopuyo was unfortunate because we went there peacefully in a cordon and search operation. We lost a commanding officer in that incident. It was very difficult to withdraw from there as the Karacunas [warriors] ambushed the soldiers," army spokesman Major Felix Kulaije told IRIN on Monday.

"The UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force] will investigate the allegations," he said, adding that the allegations were the work of local politicians opposed to the disarmament programme.

The assessment team was told by authorities and members of the community of cases of extrajudicial killings by the Ugandan army. “We saw graves and sites where such executions reportedly took place. Bullet cartridges and dry blood were still evident,” a source with the mission said. “Tanks and gunship helicopters were reportedly sent to the site.”

The mission team of humanitarian workers observed several tank tracks as well as heavy machine gun cartridges on the site, which were said to belong to the army. "One unexploded ordnance was seen by the team members at the scene," it added.

Karamoja is the least developed area of Uganda and its residents, the Karamojong, have a history of belligerence with the government. Some believe all cattle in the world were stolen from Karamoja and that they must fight to reclaim them. The region is Uganda's remotest and least policed. Up to 40,000 guns are estimated to be in illegal hands in the region.



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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