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Army to investigate Karamoja killings

The Ugandan army is to conduct an inquiry into the circumstances in which two people died and a pregnant woman miscarried in the northeastern district of Kotido, after they were reportedly beaten and tortured by soldiers carrying out a disarmament operation among the local Karamojong community, according to an army spokesperson.

The Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) launched the forcible disarmament campaign in the insecurity-prone Karamoja subregion of northeastern Uganda following the 15 February expiry of a month's grace period which the government extended to the Karamojong community to voluntarily surrender illegally held weapons.

On Wednesday, Uganda's newspapers reported the deaths of the chairman of Kapedo sub-county in Kotido District and a prominent businessman, allegedly beaten up and tortured by Ugandan soldiers, who wrongly accused them of not surrendering their arms.

Ael Ark Lodou, an area MP, told news reporters in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Tuesday that the bodies of the two "prominent people" had been recovered on 25 February in Ugandan army trenches, according to The New Vision government-owned newspaper.

Lodou - who also claimed soldiers beat up a five-months pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry - said the army was conducting the ongoing forcible disarmament exercise "contrary to presidential orders" to arrest those found with illegal arms after the 15 February deadline, the report added.

"These bodies had wounds, which shows they were beaten to death. This is not what the president had ordered. The president said the disarmament must be carried out carefully so as not to cause deaths," Lodou added.

UPDF Director of Information and Public Relations Shaban Bantariza told IRIN on Friday that four security personnel had already been arrested in connection with the incidents. The four (two regular army personnel, a sergeant and a Special Police constable) would be prosecuted in court, he said.

"It is true these people [in Kotido] were tortured. That is because their commander did not supervise them [the soldiers]," Bantariza added.

He denied reports carried in the independent Monitor newspaper in Uganda that 10 people had been killed in the disarmament operation, but admitted that the army had clashed with some members of the Karamojong community at a watering point in the drought-prone region.

The New Vision reported on Thursday that Karamoja warriors had shot and seriously injured one UPDF soldier and two members of a paramilitary Local Defence Unit (LDU) from Katakwi District, eastern Uganda, in an ambush at the weekend near a watering point in Bokora county, in the northeastern district of Moroto (part of the Karamojong subregion).

"Some rustlers ambushed soldiers at a watering point," Bantariza told IRIN. "Some Karamojong who keep guns are claiming that UPDF is denying them water, but that is not true. They are spreading false information so we can go away, and they can continue attacking others," he added.

The forcible disarmament exercise was launched because the Karamojong had largely ignored the call to surrender their guns under a voluntary programme launched by President Yoweri Museveni last year, Bantariza said.

In December, Museveni travelled to the Morulinga area of Moroto District, where he spearheaded the voluntary disarmament exercise. The president gave a deadline of 15 February, after which, he said, those found in possession of illegal firearms would be arrested.

As the deadline expired, only 7,676 guns - fewer than a quarter of the 40,000 hoped for - had been handed in by the community, according to Bantariza.

The Karamojong have been accused of violently raiding neighbouring districts, notably Katakwi, causing displacement of people and untold human suffering. The insecurity caused by such raids has caused the displacement of at least 10,000 households (over 80,000 people) to "protected camps" in Katakwi District alone, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in October 2001.

The forcible disarmament operation is, however, expected to go hand in hand with a measure of continued voluntary disarmament: those who voluntarily hand over their firearms after the 15 February deadline will still be given an amnesty, according to Bantariza.

Meanwhile, Museveni has travelled to the northern district of Gulu to assess the security situation there, following recent attacks in Gulu, Kitgum and Apac districts by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), following a year of relative calm.

LRA actions have included the killing and abduction of civilians, looting of people's goods and destruction of their homes, such that humanitarian officials have described its insurgency as a war against the civilian population and not the Kampala government.

Mary Okurut, presidential spokeswoman, told IRIN on Thursday that Museveni had travelled to the region merely to meet the public. "The president wanted to meet the people. He has said [he would do] this after his first trip to Karamoja," she added.

While in Gulu, Museveni would see how the army operation against the rebel group was being conducted, according to Bantariza.

"He is the Commander-in-Chief; he is interested in the way things are done," he told IRIN.

The LRA, led by Joseph Kony and operating from bases in southern Sudan, and splinter groups still in northern Uganda, have conducted three separate attacks on Gulu, Kitgum and Apac since 23 February.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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