by Halima Abdallah Kisule
– Kampala, Uganda –
Kenya, however, may not be a safe haven for the warriors as a similar disarmament exercise is taking place. Both Kenya and Uganda maintain liaison officers in each other’s countries.
Sudan, which is a big source of guns, is not yet on board. That is why Uganda’s Minister of Defense plans to meet his Sudanese counterpart soon to address the issue of Toposa who cross the border to raid in Uganda. The two ministers will also talk about the gun market inside Sudan.
This may quell the fears of Karamojong who claim that Pokot and Turkana from Kenya and Toposa from Sudan will attack and raid their cattle if they are disarmed. The members of parliament from the region have also called for the establishment of a militia group to back up the army in this respect.
The army objects to this claim, arguing that it is providing enough security to the people already. The army also said there are alliances between the clans in Uganda with their cousins in Kenya and Sudan not to raid each other, then join efforts to raid other clans in either country.
For example the Pokot from Kenya do not raid the Pokot in Uganda, but would join hands to raid another clan, like the Bokora from Uganda.
“The protection they are demanding is not actually an issue if they have these alliances. There are more intra-Karamoja raids than extra-Karamoja raids,” Kulaigye said.
An army source said that the situation has become even more complex with the Local Defense Unit (LDU), a paramilitary body deployed alongside them, acting as traitors. All LDUs in Karamoja are Karamojong. Kulaigye explained that LDUs were recruited to help prevent stock theft. The idea was that because they were recruited locally, they would guard their communities.
Kulaigye agrees that the LDUs took sides as soon as they were handed guns. For example, a particular LDU would protect his clan’s mate once they committed raids, instead of apprehending him as a criminal.
Now in the disarmament, the source said, LDUs are leaking information about any planned operation provided it affects their villages. Such LDUs desert with their guns and join the warriors in the fight against the army. The acts of LDUs, according to this source, accounts for several clashes that the army has had with the warriors, including the incident in 2006 where Maj. Khan Rwashande was killed.
Kulaigye admits LDUs are becoming problematic and cited an earlier incident where another major, whose name he did not disclose, was killed by a platoon of LDUs he was commanding. The LDUs killed him in his sleep before deserting with their guns.
“They (LDUs) should not be involved in cordon and search. They should be left to do other security work,” Lokeris said.
Last month, the army took a decision to disengage the LDUs from Karamoja. Only those deployed outside Karamoja would be spared.
“We have demobilized the LDUs. Only 600 are left to serve under the anti-stock theft unit after undergoing a screening,” Kulaigye said.
The army also has the difficult task of bringing some members of parliament from the region who allegedly support rustling on their side.
Abuse of human rights by both sides has also become an issue in the exercise. The Karamojong accuse the UPDF of gross human rights abuses in the process of disarming them.
A United Nations High Commissioner for the Human Rights office in Kampala, however, issued a report in November 2006 that implicates both the warriors and the UPDF. The report extensively cited the October 29, 2006, incident, where lives were lost and property destroyed.
“The exchange of fire between the soldiers and armed villagers resulted in the deaths of 48 villagers, six of whom were reported to have been summarily and arbitrarily executed by the soldiers,” read the report.
The army denies this and argued that working from an intelligence report, they learned that warriors would be armed during the Adowa festival. When they took position, the armed men fired first at the Major as he got out of his car. Shots were exchanged and 16 solders and 11 villagers were killed.
The report also blames the warriors for destroying property, looting and causing gun injuries to civilians living in the senior quarters in Kotid,o and causing the displacement of over 700 people.
“The displaced women and children sleep in ten offices and vacate them in the morning as civil servants come to work. Many of the displaced men spend nights on verandas, in office corridors or under trees,” the report stated.
This report follows a UN rejection of an earlier report the Uganda Human Rights Commission issued recently, on grounds that it is biased towards the UPDF. A group of Uganda’s donors also went on a fact-finding mission to the area late in November 2006. The army is being investigated for the October 29 incident, but denies abuses of human rights in the exercise. It argues that the warriors normally make the first attack and the army only responds. The army said the warriors also changed tactics and now move in large groups for attack purposes.
“We are facing a battalion in motion,” Kulaigye said.