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UGANDA: Landmines stop thousands returning home

LAMWO, 1 December 2010 (IRIN) - Uncleared minefields in northern Uganda’s Lamwo district have prevented thousands of people displaced during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency from returning home, officials said.

“These people can’t go to their villages [in Agoro sub-county] unless the place is cleared and declared free of the landmines,” local government official Mathew Ocen Akiya told IRIN. He said some 10,000 people were unable to go home because of the mines.

Among them is Geoffrey Onek, 59, who still lives in one of the camps, or “protected villages”, established by the government during the war.

“I tried going back home in 2006 but a landmine killed two people,” Onek told IRIN. “I saw how my neighbour Okello was hit by a landmine in Mica [his home village] in 2006. We were going to the village to begin constructing huts for the family to move away from the camp in Lukung but as we walked down the hill, I heard a thunderous blast followed by dark smoke.

“I would rather die here in the camp than risk my life and that of my children in that village,” Onek added.

According to Lt. Denis Labu, head of the demining office in Lamwo, four suspected minefields in the hills of Agoro, where five people were killed and five injured in 2006, have yet to be cleared.

He said demining teams had removed and detonated 28 Chinese-made E72s from the village of Lute and 22 mines from Ajalikec village.

Labu added that the common practice of setting light to vegetation in an effort to detonate the devices was putting civilians in danger.

While army demining personnel said they were on track to meet a 2012 deadline for clearing all existing minefields in areas of return, Mine Action Programme Coordinator Vincent Woboya has appealed for further resources.

“With the capacity we have we cannot get rid of the mines, and unexploded ordnance still poses a threat to resettlement of IDPs,” he said.

While declaring the village of Lute clear of mines on 20 November, the Minister for Disaster Preparedness Tarsis Kabwegyere said he was committed to finishing the job. “The government will source additional resources to meet the demand on the ground,” he said.

ca/cp/am/mw

Theme (s): Conflict, Refugees/IDPs,

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

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