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The Ugandan authorities say they fear a new rebel group has been formed that may turn out to be as dangerous as the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, which ended a 20-year war in the northern Uganda just two years ago.
The LRA left the region in 2006 when peace talks began, and is now based in the remote north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, where it has conducted raids on local villages and forced thousands to flee.
While the extent of the threat is unclear, some fear that such an LRA-like group that is armed and organised could set off more fighting due to growing discontent with floundering redevelopment efforts in northern Uganda.
“We think the [new] rebels are preparing to fight for the same cause that Kony did,” said Kenneth Ojoro, a local leader of the ethnic Lango community in northern Uganda.
The LRA claimed to be fighting the government of Yoweri Museveni, who took power in Uganda in 1986 by overthrowing the government of Tito Okello. The LRA was formed in 1986 of scattered opposition to Museveni.
The new rebel faction appears to be camped in Uganda’s popular Murchison Falls Park, where it has reportedly training recruits, according to Masindi district officials.
“Yes it is true that a new rebel group is emerging in Murchison Falls Park,” Resident District Commissioner Mugisha Muhoozi told IWPR.
The emergence of a new rebel force has provoked a response from the military. Army spokesman Major Paddy Ankunda confirmed that it has been heavily deployed in the park to hunt them down.
“There is nothing to worry about. We shall look for them,” he said. “We don’t want [people] to lose hope in their country. What we want now is peace and development in the region.”
Some Masindi residents, still living in refugee camps built during the war with the LRA, claim the new rebel group may be linked to Peter Karim, a Ugandan army commander who once operated in Uganda’s West Nile region.
But according to Ankunda, Karim denies any involvement.
After the Ugandan army officially withdrew from the eastern Congo in 2003, Karim was active in the Ituri area of eastern DRC, and has been affiliated with the notorious Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes, FNI, a Lendu militia headed by Colonel Mathieu Ngudjolo.
Ngudjolo and another Congolese rebel leader Germain Katanga are awaiting prosecution by the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague for an alleged joint attack on the Ituri village of Bogoro, by their respective militias, the FNI and the Patriotic Resistance Force, FRPI, February 24, 2003.
A 2006 United Nations report on the exploitation of natural resources in DRC identified Karim as “one of the chief perpetrators”, and said he routinely exchanged timber and coffee arms and ammunition. The report also identified him as a former Ugandan soldier and timber contractor in Paidha, a Ugandan town on the Congolese border.
In March 2007, reports surfaced that Karim had agreed to the surrender of 170 of his troops, who including numerous children, to UN peacekeepers in the Ituri region, claiming that he wanted peace.
In November the same year, and amidst much fanfare, Karim and other rebel leaders were flown to Kinshasa where they accepted positions in the Congolese army. Karim remains there.
Meanwhile, a dozen people alleged to have collaborated with the new rebels, including several local government officials in Masindi district, have been arrested.
The suspects were apprehended and have been jailed at the Masindi Central Police station, said District Police Commander Alex Trabaze.
The deputy resident commissioner in Masindi, Jack Odur, told IWPR that the arrests led to the recovery of some military hardware.
“We have recovered 110 grenades and 54 AK-47 guns in the park’s vast forest,” said Odur. “We hope with the latest development, the rebels will have no arms to destabilise the region.”
The recent arrests and deployment of Ugandan military forces to the area have local residents worried. Some refugees are now refusing to return to their villages, fearing an outbreak of war.
“I will not abandon the camp if the government fails to control the rebel movement,” said Quinto Apeto, a resident of Nyakatabu internal refugee camp near Masindi. “We are tired of witnessing the deaths of our beloved relatives.
“Many of our people who fled the LRA war fear that they will be attacked…if they abandon the camp and return home.
“We shall continue living a useless life in the camp as long as the government fails to uproot all the rebels destabilising northern Uganda.”
Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained reporter.
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