Diciembre 1, 2006

UGANDA: Army to probe human-rights abuses in northeast

KAMPALA, 1 December (IRIN) - A military tribunal has been appointed to probe allegations of abuses by Ugandan soldiers during a forced disarmament programme in which 55 people, including women and children, were killed, a senior official said on Friday.

"The chief of defence forces has appointed a board of inquiry to investigate reported mistakes during operations," the Defence Minister, Crispus Kiyonga, told a news conference in the capital, Kampala. To headed by an army Colonel, the board will include legal officers in the army, he added.

In an apparent acceptance that the military was responsible for some of the abuses highlighted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kiyonga said measures were being put in place to improve discipline in the army, adding that more troops were being deployed to the area. "In order to limit unintended damage to the population and their property, measures are being taken to tighten the discipline in the troops in the region," he said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said in a report last week that investigations had uncovered evidence of abuses, including summary executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape, and asked the Ugandan authorities to halt operations. The UN Children's Fund (Unicef) also called for restraint after reports of continued violence in the region.

"In addition to the immediate threat of bodily harm and death, violence can exert a cumulative toll on entire communities," Unicef Country Representative Martin Mogwanja said in a statement on Thursday. "Violence can keep children out of school and rob them of the chance to fulfil their potential. Multiplied many times over, violence robs the community of its potential for development."

Mogwanja's appeal was the latest UN call for restraint in the disarmament campaign being conducted against Karamojong warriors in the northeastern region.

Kiyonga said a militia group involved in a bloody clash that resulted in the killing of about 20 government soldiers, triggering what was said to be retaliatory attacks by the army, had been disbanded.

"The LDUs [local defence units] that were part of the force involved in the operation in Lupuyo on 29 and 30 October have been dissolved," he said, maintaining that the forceful disarmament was needed to restore order in the lawless area, which is rife with banditry and cattle rustling.

The head of the army, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, said up to 88 warriors had been arrested and would be brought before a military court charged with illegal possession of fire-arms. Nyakairima, however, said the operation was under pressure from the proliferation of arms in the region, which originated outside the country.

"In Somalia, there is a kind of an arms factory, not in terms of manufacturing," he said adding that joint cross-border efforts would be needed to solve the problem.

Karamoja is the least developed area of Uganda and its residents, mainly the Karamojong, have a history of antagonism towards the government. Recently they accused the government of trying to leave them defenceless against rival tribes through the disarmament scheme. The military says the programme had been a success, collecting about 3,500 guns, many of them assault rifles, since it was launched in May.

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