Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 09:56:03 -0600 (CST)
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Rebels Acquire Better Training And Weaponry
By Judith Achieng', IPS, 27 December 1999
NAIROBI, Dec 27 (IPS) - Rebels seeking to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda have become better trained and have more sophisticated weaponry, according to aid agencies operating in the troubled region, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"While previously the most common weapons they used were machetes and knives, now all rebels use guns," says an aid worker, who refused to be named for security reasons.
Last week the rebels killed 90 of the 365 inmates they abducted when they attacked Kitojo prison, on the border with the DRC.
The decomposing hacked body-parts of the prisoners were reportedly discovered by the Ugandan army on the slopes of Ruwenzori Mountains, where the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has its bases.
The prison attack is so far the bloodiest in the region after the murder in October, of some 80 students at the Kichwamba Technical College, some 315 kilometres from Kampala, the Ugandan capital.
Branded "rebels without a cause", the ADF, believed to be drawing support from the DRC and Sudan, have been sowing terror and destruction on villages and towns of western Uganda making the region a hotspot for insurgent activities since 1997.
In February, some eight foreign tourists were also massacred at the Bwindi National Park, on the border with the DRC, by suspected ADF elements, with the help of the remnants of the Interahamwe, Rwandan Hutu militias, who slaughtered up to one million Tutsi and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994.
Initially, the group's activities, which began with sporadic attacks, were ignored by President Museveni's government until the attacks escalated.
Their attacks have also become more brutal -- and similar to those of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who are fighting Museveni's government in the north -- characterised by burning villages and abducting adults and children from their homes and schools.
Those who have managed to escape have also told similar horror tales of beatings, torture and forceful recruitment into the rebel ranks.
At least eight people were also last week killed in the troubled region in rebel attack. "There have been more attacks, over the last two weeks. It's been explosive," says a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson.
The atrocities have resulted in the displacement of thousands of families, who have been forced to abandon their homes and farms for shelter in guarded Internally Displaced Camps (IDC) run by aid agencies.
In Bundibugyo district, most affected by the attacks, at least 105,000 people have been displaced from their homes, while in neighbouring Kasese, some 30,000 people have abandoned their homes and farms.
The fighting has also taken its toll on Uganda's economy, resulting in food shortage in the fertile area, forcing most families to depend on relief food.
Museveni's government has ruled out talks with any rebel group, although it admits the difficult mountainous terrain in western Uganda has worked to the advantage of the rebels.
The problem has further been compounded by the fact that the overstretched Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPDF), which is fighting both the ADF and LRA, has been deployed in the DRC to fight alongside Congolese rebels seeking to topple the government of President Laurent-Desire Kabila.
The escalating war in western Uganda takes place barely days after President Museveni signed an accord in Kenya with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al Bashir to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two neighbours and to stop supporting each other's rebels.
The peace agreement, brokered by former US president Jimmy Carter came at a time when the two neighbours were inching closer to an all out war, with Museveni accusing Sudan of aiding both ADF and LRA.
Bashir, on the other hand, has accused Uganda of supporting the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting for self- determination in the south of the country.
Ugandan rebels have, however, vowed to ignore the agreement between Uganda and Sudan, saying they were excluded from the negotiations. "The agreement will not change the status quo. It was just a political stand they took to woo the international community, but practically, it is impossible to implement," an LRA source told IPS.
"We cannot talk peace in the absence of the other people who are part and parcel of the process," he said.
Although northern Uganda has enjoyed a lull in rebel activities in the past few months, it is just a mater of time before the dissidents strike again.
"I think the main obstacle to peace in Uganda is Museveni. He thinks the international community believes him. He gets money from the World Bank, and IMF (International Monetary Fund) so he thinks he can do whatever he likes," said the LRA source.
Museveni, a former rebel leader, seized power in 1986, after five years of guerrilla war.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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