(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cattle rustling compounds returnees’ woes

Displaced women as a peace meeting in Kitgum, northern Uganda
Charles Akena/IRIN

Cattle rustling in Kitgum, northern Uganda, has become yet another obstacle to the smooth return of former internally displaced persons (IDPs), resettling their land after years of civil war waged by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

"Locals in the area are uncertain of what might happen to them and their animals; they are unable to plant crops and work freely towards their resettlement," Mathew Akia, a local leader, told IRIN.

Up to 17,000 former IDPs from Agoro sub-county, 18,000 from Mucwini sub-county and 13,000 from Madi Opei sub-county have returned to their villages of origin, according to statistics compiled by the Kitgum district disaster management committee.

The cattle rustlers are suspected to be from the neighbouring Kotido district, which is inhabited mainly by the Karamoja, a marginalised pastoralist community known for cattle rustling.

Raids have been reported in Gerie, Orogo and Lutuko villages in Kitgum, with an incident on 25 April resulting in the death of a 33-year-old returnee, Francis Oryem, in Gerie.

"Oryem got out of his hut around 10pm to relieve himself but as he opened the door I heard two gunshots from the side of the hut and Oryem started screaming that he had been shot," Filbedo Luca, Oryem's uncle, said.

"We came out [armed] with spears and bows and found Oryem lying on the ground with blood oozing out of his stomach..."

The raiders uprooted Luca's cassava plants as they left. Villagers later spotted 10 armed Karamojong cattle rustlers, who were said to have entered Kitgum two days earlier. Oryem died on 26 April as he was being taken to the nearby Madi Opei health centre for treatment.

Policemen serving in the Anti-Stock Theft Unit: Returnees in Kitgum are living in fear of cattle rustlers

Charles Akena/IRIN
Policemen serving in the Anti-Stock Theft Unit: Returnees in Kitgum are living in fear of cattle rustlers
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Le désarmement de Karamoja « doit être repensé »
Policemen serving in the Anti-Stock Theft Unit: Returnees in Kitgum are living in fear of cattle rustlers

Photo: Charles Akena/IRIN
Policemen serving in the Anti-Stock Theft Unit: Returnees in Kitgum are living in fear of cattle rustlers

Army protection

Capt Ronald Kakurungu, army spokesman for northern Uganda, told IRIN in Gulu that a battalion of soldiers had been deployed to Abim district to help provide protection along the borders of Kitgum and Pader district.

"We have reinforced UPDF [Uganda People’s Defence Forces] deployment along the boarders to help protect IDPs from cattle rustlers from Kotido or insurgents that might try to infiltrate from Southern Sudan," he said.

Capt Deo Akiiki, spokesman for the UPDF’s Fifth division, overseeing Kotido, said illegal possession of fire-arms was still a problem in the area, despite an ongoing disarmament programme.

"The disarmament programme is succeeding though the last gun has not yet been removed from the rustlers,” Akiiki said.

The programme was launched in 2004 in Karamoja region as illegal fire-arms are largely blamed for fuelling cattle rustling and disrupting law and order.

In the past, he said, Kotido residents had allowed the Karamojong to graze their cattle in the area but whenever they left for their homes, they raided local residents' homes and drove away their cattle and stole other property.

Akiiki said the incursion of rustlers from the Sudanese Langes pastoral ethnic group from Southern Sudan was also a problem.

"We had an incident where the Langes pastoralists from Southern Sudan tried to raid IDPs in Agoro village in Kitgum at the border of Southern Sudan,” Akiiki said. "We are trying to coordinate with SPLA [Sudan People's Liberation Army] forces across the border to prevent such incidents in future.”

There are no statistics of how many cattle-rustling incidents have taken place. "There have been a number of cases in the past years but I don’t have the figure now," Akiiki said.


Paul Lamanio, the Kotido local council vice-chairman, confirmed there had been incidents where cattle rustlers from Kotido had attacked IDPs along the borders in an attempt to steal cattle and other items.

"We apologize for the inhuman act of raids, rape and killings committed against locals in Kitgum and Pader by cattle rustlers from Kotido," Lamanio said.

Before they were displaced by the LRA war, residents of Pader and Kitgum districts in the Acholi sub-region, who lived along the border of Kotido district, were frequent targets of cattle rustlers.

"We are sending more forces to the area to protect IDPs returning to their villages; we are also opening security roads along the border to ease movements of forces, and sinking bore-holes to provide water for forces who will be stationed in the area," Sylvester Opira, the Kitgum district security committee chairman, told IRIN.


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