UGANDA: Scores killed in forced disarmament in northeast
KAMPALA, 19 December 2006 (IRIN) - More than 150 people, including woman and children, have been killed and hundreds of others displaced in northeastern Uganda after clashes between government soldiers and armed cattle herders in the past two months, the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.
"Following the government’s resumption in May of its forced disarmament programme to address insecurity created by the illegal possession of firearms by some Karamojong members, the reporting period witnessed deteriorating security conditions in Kotido, Kaabong and Abim caused by confrontations between the UPDF [Uganda People’s Defense Forces] and Karamojong warriors," UNICEF said in a report.
The three districts of Kotido, Kaabong and Abim are located in Karamoja region, about 600 kilometres northeast of the capital, Kampala. The region is the least developed in 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 groups by forcibly disarming them.
However, the government has refuted the claims, saying its disarmament programme has been a success, collecting about 3,500 guns, many of them assault rifles, since May.
In November, however, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, stated in a report that investigations had uncovered evidence of abuses, including summary executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and rape, and asked the Ugandan authorities to halt operations.
"Since the start of the most recent violence in October, more than 150 people have died in the clashes, including children and women," UNICEF said. "As at end-November, approximately 1,000 people remained internally displaced."
An army spokesman, Maj Felix Kulaigye, denied the allegations, however. "This is a serious misrepresentation. The figures we have do not even make a quarter of that because according to our records, only 37 people have died since October," he said. "UNICEF is being misinformed – two warriors were killed at Lopyo, 14 government soldiers were killed the same day and the army killed two warriors at Lokoliyo in Kaabong district."
Kulaigye said the army had bombarded some areas, and added: "The army bombarded some warriors on the mountain later and killed nine of them."
UNICEF, through a Catholic NGO, CARITAS and the Anglican Church in the area, with district authorities, has been providing emergency humanitarian support in the form of non-food items and first-aid kits to displaced populations. It said an inter-agency assessment team during November received "many reports of human-rights abuses committed by both the UPDF and Karamojong warriors".
"UNICEF joined other UN agencies in formally expressing its serious concern about the impact of escalating insecurity on the lives of children and families, calling for restraint by all arms carriers in relation to the disarmament and urging national and local authorities to undertake all measures to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable members of the civilian population," the report said.