Army denies "fleeing" from rebels

The Ugandan army on Tuesday denied it was "running away" from rebel attacks in the north of the country.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza told IRIN the army was still in charge in northern Uganda, where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has in recent weeks stepped up attacks on villages and camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).

"If we were running away from the camps, thousands of displaced people would have been kidnapped already and there would be no camps," he said. "The rebels would have burnt them all."

Uganda's independent 'Monitor' newspaper reported on Tuesday that IDPs housed in protected camps in the Gulu area had accused the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) of "fleeing" whenever the LRA attacked the camps, leaving them without protection.

Bantariza said the villagers' complaints resulted from their "prolonged psychological trauma" due to the northern conflict. But, he added, they were also being "incited" by local politicians and church leaders, who are opposed to the military campaign against LRA.

The latest attacks began when a group of 400 LRA fighters slipped into Uganda late last month from Sudan.

Humanitarian sources based in the Gulu said the attacks - characterised by the burning of huts in IDP camps and abductions - have produced a new wave of internal displacement, putting a strain on ongoing relief and development work in the region.