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Ex-Combatants Blamed for Crime Wave

Former members of LRA and militia loyal to authorities seen as threat to security in north.
By Patrick Okino
When Sophia Ayugi allegedly wanted to get rid of her stepmother, Satina Ochola, it’s claimed she got her lover, former militia fighter, Francis Oyanga, to do the job.

According to Lira district police commander Raymond Otim, Ayugi is suspected of asking Oyanga to kill Ochola because she is said to have refused to grant her access to her father’s land.

Ayugi and Oyanga were arrested in mid-August for allegedly shooting Ochola. They were later charged with attempted murder.

Officials say Oyanga was part of northern Uganda’s Amuka militia, the auxiliary force that helped the Ugandan army to battle the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, for the past 20 years.

Those former militiamen and rebels who have kept their weapons despite the effective end of the war nearly two years ago appear to be the source of a growing crime wave.

Ex-Amuka militiamen are supposed to have handed in their weapons in decommissioning process and former LRA men were expected to turn in their guns as part of a scheme to reintegrate them into Ugandan society. Firearms retained by either group are deemed to be illegal.

While many blame former rebels for the crimes, police note that, although the Amuka militia was disbanded, many of its members kept their weapons and are now suspected of involvement in the violence.

The Ugandan government demobilised the Amuka militia last year, but some fighters reportedly held back their guns because they had never been paid, sources told IWPR.

Alarm about a recent spate of murders has spread across northern Uganda, prompting law enforcement officials to appeal to the public for help.

“I am requesting the community to report people with dubious characters, including those with illegal guns, so that the police can arrest them before they [commit] crime,” said Otim.

Four people, continued Otim, were recently apprehended and charged with possession of illegal firearms that were used in the killings of villagers over minor arguments and land disputes.

One of those arrested was Thomas Acuc, reportedly an Amuka militia deserter, who was accused of killing Lusano Otim, a resident of Apado village near Lira, in an argument over land.

“We netted him when he came to the bank,” Otim told IWPR.

Otim said a total of ten former refugees have been killed in Lira district alone over the past four months, mostly by men wielding illegal weapons.

Meanwhile, in Gulu district, a number of landmines and rocket-propelled grenades were found, with locals saying they belonged to the LRA. A few years ago, the rebels decamped to the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, where they recently resumed their practice of attacking villages and abducting children.

LRA leader Joseph Kony and a couple of his top commanders have been indicted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague, but remain at large in DRC.

Uganda military units in the north, meanwhile, have launched an operation to recover illegal weapons and military fatigues.

According to Ugandan army spokesman Captain Deo Akiki, more than ten guns and 500 rounds of ammunition were seized in August from two gunmen who had reportedly terrorised people.

And last week, police recovered six assault rifles and 300 rounds. Officials said the materiel belonged to former militia members and others who used it against people returning to their villages from former refugee camps.

District security official Joan Pacoto acknowledged that people have been killed recently by what he described as armed thugs.

Pacoto also said weaponry abandoned or hidden by the LRA and the Amuka threatens the safety of many villagers.

“Although there is total peace, [military hardware] still remains a threat,” said Ngoli David, a Gulu district elder.

“The national mine action [group] recently recovered 11 landmines and 72 [rocket propelled grenades] in my area. It is good that nobody was killed as a result of this problem.”

The authorities insist, however, that they are addressing the issue.

“The police have been mobilising the communities to report any abandoned weaponry,” local official Milton Odongo told IWPR.

“We want to start focusing on development because we are very sure that Kony will not return to Uganda.”

Patrick Okino is an IWPR-trained journalist in Uganda.

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