The Ugandan government is to resume disarming lawless "warriors" in the northeastern Karamoja region, which borders Kenya and Sudan, saying easy availability of weapons had claimed hundreds of lives in tribal clashes and encouraged insecurity.
Maj Shaban Bantariza, spokesman for the Uganda People's Defence Forces, told IRIN on Sunday that disarmament committees were being formed at district and sub-county levels throughout the region to revive an exercise that started in December 2002, but went into limbo as the government shifted its attention to fighting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the north.
An estimated 40,000 illegal guns are in the hands of pastoralists in the Karamoja region, according to the army. "They are forming the disarmament committees which will include district officials and other leaders," Bantariza said. "Voluntary disarmament will be embarked on first in October, but we shall resort to forceful disarmament after the period for voluntary disarmament elapses."
Previously, the pastoralists were given one month to disarm. But after only a few thousand guns were turned in, the army resorted to forceful disarmament. Human rights groups however criticised army "high-handedness" while collecting the guns.
"The last operation managed to recover about 11,000 guns," Bantariza said.
Karamoja region, situated some 400 km northeast of the capital, Kampala, is made up of three districts - Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripiriti. It lies at the centre of an area where small arms are traded with the Turkana people of Kenya and with other tribes in southern Sudan, the scene of a long-running civil war.
Before arms became easy to acquire, the pastoralist Karamojong relied on arrows and spears to fight cattle rustlers and other enemies. They first gained access to modern weaponry in 1979 during fighting which ousted the former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. At the time the Karamojong broke into and looted a local military armoury.
President Yoweri Museveni, who visited the region last week, said at a rally in Moroto town that the disarmament exercise had been suspended in order to attend to the LRA problem, but "since the LRA banditry has now been totally defeated, attention is to be refocused on the disarmament exercise in the region".
Museveni said that after the completion of disarmament, the army would concentrate on protecting the people of the region against any form of foreign armed group - a reason the people had given for keeping their guns. A special unit, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, with 5,000 men would be formed, he added.
Museveni's announcement came at time when insecurity has again increased in the region. Clashes were reported recently in the local Ugandan media between the army and the warriors in which more than a dozen warriors and some Ugandan soldiers were reportedly killed. On Friday, a Roman Catholic priest attached to the remote Moroto diocese survived an ambush when his vehicle came under fire from suspected warriors at a bridge 40 km from Moroto town.
Local leaders were however quoted by Ugandan newspapers as saying they wanted the disarmament to be simultaneously carried out in Kenya and Sudan, saying this would ensure sustainable peace by limiting the flow of guns into Karamoja from neighbouring regions.
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