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UGANDA: Too many guns threaten returnees, say officials

GULU, 10 July 2008 (IRIN) - Northern Uganda has enjoyed relative peace following years of clashes between government troops and rebels, but the prevalence of illegal weapons across the region poses a new challenge to displaced civilians returning to their villages, officials said.

"The region has seen a great deal of violence and so many guns are still on the loose," Phenihensas Arinaitwe, the regional police commander, said. "Some rogue elements are robbing IDPs [internally displaced persons] and people in villages."

Between January and June, 308 cases of robbery were reported in Gulu, Kitgum, Amuru and Pader Districts, with the first two topping the list. During these incidents, 168 IDPs were murdered as they tried to return home.

"May was the worst month, with 67 cases of robbery," Arinaitwe added. "On average at least 30 cases of robbery are reported monthly."

Some of the 168 suspects, who were arrested, tried in court and found guilty, included former fighters of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Capt Ronald Kakurungu, army spokesman in the region, accused LRA ex-combatants of illegally possessing ammunition. "We have observed that some LRA ex-rebels who surrendered did not hand over all their guns and we suspect they are the ones they are using in robberies," he told IRIN.

The army, he added, had in the past three years recovered more than 500 guns from LRA ex-rebels.

"Some civilians find guns in the bush where rebels buried them and those are [some] that have ended up in the hands of the wrongdoers," Kakurungu said. Other weapons, he added, were trafficked into the region from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan.

IDPs told IRIN they had fallen victim to the new wave of armed robbery sweeping villages and return sites. In Bungatira, 30km south of Gulu town, former IDPs from Paibow village recently spent the night in the cold during a shoot-out between robbers and the army.

"We were sleeping and we heard a bang on our door with a man shouting that we should open the door or be shot," said Akumu Harriet. "We were scared and started [imagining] LRA rebels had come back. My husband told us not to open the door and the robbers fired several bullets, then moved to the next homestead where they robbed them."

Another IDP, Anena Verentina, said robbers forced her door open, held them at gunpoint and asked for money and mobile phones. "They robbed us of 400,000 shillings [US$245] and a mobile phone," she explained. "Fortunately the [police] closed in; one of the robbers was shot dead while three others who were armed escaped."

Last October, police arrested the former LRA director of operations, Alfred Onen Kamdulu, for armed robbery. One of the LRA groups that surrendered in 2004, he was arrested with a pistol and AK47 rifles at a hideout in Maruzi, Apac District, after robbing local traders.

Egessa Oduri, a senior police officer in the region, said the force had instituted a new policy of sensitising the community to prevent crime. "We have established police posts at every sub-county to detect and prevent crime," he added.

A lull in clashes between the LRA and the Ugandan army over the past year has allowed thousands of IDPs to leave camps and return to their villages. Ongoing talks between the two parties, however, hit a stalemate after LRA leader Joseph Kony failed to sign a peace agreement in April.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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