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UGANDA: Gov't soldiers charged with rape of IDPs

KAMPALA, 22 April 2005 (IRIN) - Three Ugandan soldiers have been arrested in connection with the rape of two internally displaced persons (IDPs), including a 12-year-old girl, in the war-torn northern district of Kitgum, an army spokesman told IRIN on Thursday.

"We have arrested three soldiers following accusations that they participated in raping women in Kitgum last month," Lt Kiconco Tabaro said.

The arrests followed allegations in parliament on Tuesday by Jane Akwero, an MP, that government troops had raided an IDP camp at Padibe - 20 km north of Kitgum town - and gang-raped more than 15 women and girls, as well as stealing money and property.

"For our forces to go on [the] rampage is disturbing and unfortunate," Akwero told IRIN on Thursday.

"That some elements in the army decided to behave like this, in spite of the fact that the forces in my area have remained generally disciplined, requires action," she added.

Norman Ojwee, chairman of the district council in Kitgum, about 400 km north of the capital, Kampala, told IRIN by telephone: "Soldiers on mobile patrol went to Padibe, and four of them started to misbehave. They decided to hold a woman and girl."

Ojwee said he had visited the camp and talked to the victims, both of whom said they had been gang-raped by the soldiers.

Up to 1.6 million people in northern and eastern Uganda have been forced into IDP camps by the 19-year protracted war between government soldiers and rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

An investigation into the incident by the ministry of defence was ordered by Ugandan Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi on Tuesday, and is to report to parliament in ten days.

Kiconco confirmed investigations were under way, and said that if the three were found guilty by a military tribunal "they will be punished in accordance with the law."

According to a Ugandan military source, a soldier found guilty of crimes such as rape and murder faces a penalty of execution by firing squad. In 2002, four soldiers were executed by firing squad after a military court martial found them guilty of murder.

However, the army has also come under heavy criticism for its treatment of civilians in the north, with several human-rights organisations accusing the government of human-rights abuses.

In 2003, Amnesty International reported that "the UPDF [Uganda People's Defence Force] have, in some cases, infringed on the rights and freedoms of individuals."

The government denied the allegations, and has repeatedly stated that its mission in northern Uganda is to protect citizens from LRA rebels, and bring peace back to the area.

In July 2004, at the request of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague initiated an investigation into possible war crimes committed during the conflict.

More recently, the ICC announced plans to issue arrest warrants for LRA commander-in-chief, Joseph Kony, and several other high-ranking rebels.

However, the ICC has come under increasing pressure to also investigate possible abuses by the Ugandan army, including the recruitment of child soldiers and the rape and torture of civilians.

"The ICC’s policy is to investigate all war crimes committed in a conflict - regardless of who committed them," Yves Sorokobi, ICC spokesman, told IRIN on Wednesday.

Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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