Army says calm returning to north

Calm is steadily returning to northern Uganda where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has, in recent weeks, stepped up attacks on villages, army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza told IRIN on Friday.

"For the past four to five days, the mayhem has gone almost to zero. We have now deployed our mobile forces to track them down individually," Bantariza said.

He said the attacks - which constitute violence, abductions and the torching of huts, shops and vehicles in parts of northern Uganda - was the LRA's way of causing "mayhem" and creating a "climate of crisis" in the region.

Ugandan newspapers reported last week that residents were fleeing camps set up by the army for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Gulu District, following an increase in LRA attacks.

The camps of Mutema and Oberabich in Amuru were abandoned, following the withdrawal of the Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF), from those areas on Sunday, according to the independent 'Monitor' newspaper.

The latest spate of LRA attacks had prompted a new wave of internal displacements after people fled from smaller camps to bigger camps which they believed would offer protection against attacks, humanitarian and media sources said.

George Omoma, programme manger for the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD) in northern Uganda, told IRIN on Friday the new attacks had disrupted all the contingency planning that relief and development organisations had put in place for peace building in the region.

On Thursday, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and district officials held a meeting in Gulu to carry out an assessment of the situation in affected areas and develop contingency plans for the future, Omoma said.

"To be honest, there was a lot of contingency planning going on before all the burnings," he added. "Organisations here were in a planning process to try to build peace. They were preparing IDPs for new camps, but now, generally people are frustrated. So many camps have been burned down, and they feel as though the whole process has taken a U-turn."

The LRA has waged a low intensity war against the government of President Yoweri Museveni since the mid-1980s, formerly with the support of the Sudanese government. However, Sudan last year withdrew its support for the LRA as a result of improved relations with Uganda.

In April this year, the Ugandan army, with permission from the Sudanese government, moved into southern Sudan, in an attempt to uproot the LRA from its main bases there. The campaign, dubbed 'Operation Iron Fist', has been criticised by religious groups opposed to a military solution to the conflict.