More Accused of Rebel Activity

But critics claim arrests are politically motivated, aimed at stifling opposition ahead of 2011 general elections.

More Accused of Rebel Activity

But critics claim arrests are politically motivated, aimed at stifling opposition ahead of 2011 general elections.

Six people in northern Uganda have been charged with treason, bringing to 14 those being held on accusations of organising a new rebel group, according to the Ugandan military.

Military spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye did not specify the name of the group or its purpose, although most of the detainees are said by a local official to be former fighters or sympathisers of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.

Critics of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni say the arrests are politically motivated. Rights advocates have also said the detentions are illegal because those apprehended have not been charged with any crimes within prescribed constitutional time limits.

“Six of the rebel coordinators we arrested in Rhino camp in Murchison Falls [Park] … have been charged in Masindi magistrate court with treason and misprision of treason,” Kulayigye told IWPR.

Misprision of treason is an offence in many jurisdictions that covers failing to report planned treason of which a person has knowledge.

Reports of rebels forming in the park, one of Uganda’s top tourist destinations, surfaced last year when some 20 people were arrested, but their links to rebel groups could not be substantiated.

Kulayigye said five others detained in mid-May included a radio journalist, Patrick Otim, who has been working with the Mega FM radio station in Gulu and Rupiny, a local language newspaper. The five were from Gulu and Pader in northern Uganda and would be arraigned in a Gulu court and charged with involvement in subversive activities, he said.

The northern Uganda regional army spokesman, Captain Ronald Kakurungu, said an additional three others believed to be rebel collaborators were arrested recently in Gulu over alleged links with insurgent activities.

Kulayigye said that Otim and others said to be former LRA combatants have been held in custody at Gulu military barracks. Otim has been held since May 15.

Livingstone Ssewanyana, a director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative in Kampala, said their detention is illegal, “Our constitution, at least for now, allows detention only up to 48 hours before a suspect [is to appear] before [a] court.”

Security agencies have used military law as a way to keep suspects in custody past the 48 hour limit, Ssewanyana said. But last year, the Ugandan constitutional court said detention beyond that time, no matter what the charge, was illegal.

“With this pronouncement in place it means the detention of Otim and other suspected rebels is unconstitutional,” said Ssewanyana.

Walter Ochora, the Gulu district commissioner, said most of those arrested are former LRA fighters who were granted amnesty. Some were integrated into the Ugandan army, he said.

Security officials have so far recovered 17 rifles, 40 pairs of gumboots, five rolls of polyethylene sheet, six grenades, two walkie-talkies, a global positioning system device, solar panels and charges, Ochora said.

“We have warned those behind this new rebel activity to stop it immediately,” Ochora said. “The entire population in the north is condemning this fresh nonsense.”

Kulayigye said the army does not want a return to the bloody LRA guerrilla insurgency, which aimed to topple the Museveni regime and establish a government based on the Ten Commandments.

In 2006, the LRA withdrew from northern Uganda and established camps in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo where it continued to loot and kidnap. Joseph Kony and the remaining two top commanders of the LRA thought to be still alive have been wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague since 2005.

Last December, the Ugandan army attacked the LRA, but failed to kill or capture Kony, whose fighters responded with a killing rampage that left an estimated 1,000 unarmed Congolese villagers dead.

Northern politicians, meanwhile, claimed the arrests of individuals for links to rebel activity are meant to stifle opposition ahead of the 2011 general elections.

“This new rebel activity is a government plan to target us,” said Beatrice Anywar Atim, parliament member from the northern town of Kitgum. “They want to frame, charge and imprison us on subversive activities.”

Parliament member Livingstone Okello-Okello, who heads a group of ethnic Acholi politicians from northern Uganda, agreed. “It’s unfortunate [that] the government is coming up with such new allegations about the new rebel activities,” Okello-Okello said.

The accusations have caused people in the north to panic, he said, which is hurting redevelopment.

“Our people have suffered enough. They need peace,” Okello-Okello said. “If it is true that there are people who are trying to involve in the rebel activities, we condemn it in the strongest terms possible.”

Okello-Okello said that similar allegations were made during the 2006 general elections in which northern and eastern districts voted for the opposition presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye.

Kulayigye dismissed the claims of political motives behind the arrests.

“There is nothing to do with politics in this matter. The government will not be foolish [enough] to start targeting innocent individuals and politicians. We have information of those involved,” Kulayigye said.

Henry Okello Oryem, the Ugandan state minister for international affairs, said the government will stop any terror activity or efforts to destabilise the country.

“Our position is very clear. If someone involves [themselves] in subversive activities, he/she will only be fortunate if is captured. If unlucky, he/she will be put out of action,” Okello told IWPR.

Back in the north, Christopher Ojera, a local leader in the Amuru district north of Gulu, in what was once a hotbed of rebel activity, acknowledged that some people in the north appear to want a return to war.

“There are some individuals who want to put back this region into jeopardy,” Ojera said, without being specific. “We have been experiencing some dubious activities and movements in the region.”

But Yusuf Adek, an Acholi elder from Gulu and former member of the LRA peace negotiating team, doubted that a new rebel movement using former LRA fighters could be launched in northern Uganda.

“I don’t think these rumours of new rebel recruitment in the north are true,” Adek told IWPR. “It’s very difficult to form a new rebel group in the north. No one wants a new war to happen in the region. People want to rest.”

Samuel Richard Egadu is an IWPR-trained journalist. Rosebell Kagumire, also an IWPR-trained journalist, contributed to this report from Kampala.
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