Omony Obol, who recently returned to Palukere village in Amuru District, northern Uganda, after years of displacement, was clearing his gardens when he unearthed 740 rounds of ammunition and three grenades.
"I was busy digging my garden early morning to plant cassava," he told IRIN in Amuru on 21 April. "As I was clearing a ditch in the middle of the garden, I saw bullets wrapped in green cloth [and] placed in the ditch."
"I was lucky because if I had cut the grenade unknowingly, it was going to explode and blow me up," he said.
Like Obol, many returnees in northern Uganda are back in their villages and taking advantage of recent rains to start planting - but have come across unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind during two decades of conflict between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Uganda government, or buried in the area by combatants.
The war, which displaced over two million people from their homes, has largely calmed down, with LRA numbers reduced, and rebel leaders confined to some western parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan.
Its effects are, however, still being felt. In Palukere village, UXO believed to be an aircraft bomb lies in the open close to where 50 people have returned. "We found the bomb last year and reported it to local leaders but nothing has been done," Macelio Onek said.
Locals said the area was a battlefield between the LRA and government forces, all of whom left bombs, bullets and a few land mines lying in the open.
Amos Ocim, a community mine risk educator, said locals in Palukere had identified 50 UXOs including mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades, bombs and bullets.
"Palukere village used to be one of the safe hiding places for the rebels. Now it is a dangerous place for people, especially children who do not know what bombs are," he said.
Photo: Charles Akena/IRIN
study under a tree in Gulu: Many returnees in northern Uganda are back
in their villages but have come across UXOs left behind during two
decades of conflict between the rebel LRA and the Uganda government
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Uganda Mine Action Centre cleared a total of 7,580 square metres in Amuru and Gulu Districts in March, destroying 301 UXOs and 381 rounds of ammunition.
Since January, the Centre has also destroyed several UXOs in Kitgum District, including 13 rocket-propelled grenades, 20 hand grenades and 17 mortars. It also cleared 35 suspected hazardous areas.
Fourteen other areas have been identified, two of which are confirmed minefields - Lumuaka in Agoro sub-county, and Ngomoromo in Lokung sub-county, with the latter designated as top priority.
In Pader, there is concern that mine risk education activities can only be undertaken in two sub-counties - Wol and Parabongo - owing to inadequate funding for agencies working in the area, OCHA said in its country humanitarian update for 1-31 March
"The landmines problem is less important than the unexploded ordnance scattered around," the deputy operations officer for the Centre in Gulu, Capt Godfrey Isingoma, said.
The Centre and the Italian NGO, the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI), said cases of landmines were very few but 13 antipersonnel mines and six anti-tank mines were detonated in Gulu and Amuru last year.
In recent years, people have died upon coming into contact with the UXOs. In 2008, seven young children were killed in a bomb explosion in a village in Gulu. In Amuru, one man was blown up by a grenade while digging, according to AVSI's mine risk educator Ochan Ongom.
In Pader, three children were killed this year when a bomb they were playing with went off. "We are receiving cases of UXOs being discovered by IDPs [internally displaced persons] returning to their villages particularly in Gulu, Amuru, Kitgum and Pader," Ongom added.
Isingoma said it was necessary to raise awareness among returnees so they do not handle UXOs and get harmed.
"Clearing the whole region will take time; our technical team is busy blowing up bombs that have been reported," he added.
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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