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East Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 21 January

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UGANDA: "Death of justice" in northern Uganda
War in the northern districts of Kitgum and Gulu has seen "the abuse of rights on a monumental scale", according to a report released by the London-based "African Rights" organisation. Rebels of the Sudan-based Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) "have murdered, raped and abducted civilians at will, during more than a decade of fighting against the army". "The Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) has also employed harsh counter-insurgency tactics, resulting in civilian deaths and the brutal treatment of suspected rebels."

The report entitled "Justice in Conflict" points out that people in northern Uganda have lost faith in the court system as the principal mechanism for justice. According to the report, the traditional justice system was the first institutional casualty of the 10-year conflict. Court buildings were destroyed and magistrates took refugee in towns. Courts are only operational in the towns of Kitgum and Gulu, due to security concerns. Nobert Mao, a member of parliament for Gulu, told IRIN that the African Rights report was a fair assessment of the state of the administration of justice in the war-ravaged areas of Gulu and Kitgum. He recommended that the government should put in place resources to offer public legal aid.

UGANDA: Uganda-Sudan talks underway

Talks between Uganda and Sudan that began on 19 January under the auspices of the Carter Center were scheduled to end on Friday. Delegates are discussing the implementation of a peace agreement signed last year by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Bashir. Dr Joyce Neu, a senior Associate Director at the Carter Center, told IRIN that both delegations were still in session on Friday morning, and a joint statement was expected by the end of the day. The talks are divided into three joint committees on political, security and humanitarian affairs. The Uganda delegation to the talks is headed by Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister in charge of the Presidency, and the Sudan delegation by Ali Abd al-Rahman Numayri, State Minister for External Relations.

UGANDA: Uganda blocks rebels on Sudan border

Uganda has deployed troops on the border with Sudan to block an estimated 200 to 300 LRA rebels from crossing into northern Uganda. Ugandan Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Cooperation Amama Mbabazi told IRIN on Friday that 200-300 LRA rebels had been camped 7 km inside Sudan, ready to cross into Uganda. "But the latest information we have is that they have withdrawn back deep into Sudan," he added.

According to media reports, hundreds of rebels crossed into Uganda on 23 December last year, five days after the Ugandan and Sudanese presidents signed the peace agreement. The LRA rebels have attacked both military and civilian targets since crossing into Uganda. The Ugandan parliament has passed an amnesty law aimed at compelling the rebels to surrender and end the 10-year old insurgency.

UGANDA: Arrival of Sudanese refugees unconfirmed

UNHCR is yet to confirm Ugandan media reports that Sudanese refugees have crossed into Kotido district, northern Uganda. The 'New Vision' on Thursday reported that an estimated 600 Sudanese refugees crossed to Uganda, fleeing drought and war. However, Timoko Niino, the UNCHCR information officer in Uganda, told IRIN that the agency has not been able to confirm the report. "We are trying to get confirmation from the Red Cross - the last information we got was that 360 Sudanese refugees are in the Kotido area," she said.

KENYA: Turkana people reportedly moving to refugee camp

Several famine-stricken families in Kenya's northwestern Turkana district have reportedly migrated from their homes and are arriving at the nearby Kakuma refugee camp, news organisations reported. The area district commissioner Peter Mooke told journalists this week that about 12,000 people from the community were living around the camp. UNHCR on Tuesday distributed food and non-food items to the group in a gesture aimed at "trying to help the local community". "It was a one-off gesture done in consideration of the suffering of the local community," a UNHCR spokeswoman told IRIN on Thursday. "It is not something that UNHCR plans to do in future, there are no guarantees for this." Contrary to press reports alleging that the Turkana families had moved to the camp because of the current famine, she said the community had gathered at Kakuma on Tuesday just for the distribution. "There is no evidence of camping in the area," she added.

KENYA: WFP finalising emergency operation for Turkana

Meanwhile, WFP is in the process of finalising an emergency operation for the Turkana region, a WFP spokeswoman told IRIN on Thursday. The Kenyan government in December launched an appeal for US $70 million and for food and non-food items to assist people in the Turkana district. Concerning claims of misappropriation of food meant for the organisation's ongoing school-feeding programmes in the area, the spokeswoman said WFP was taking the reports "very seriously". "WFP will be investigating the problems further with the ministry of education," she said. "If there is such a problem, then it means the children are not eating. That means they are not going to school, hence the WFP programme is not working properly."

ZANZIBAR: Treason trial riot

Political supporters of 18 opposition Civic United Front (CUF) members, charged with treason, on Wednesday clashed with police in the stone town in a two-hour fracas that left several people injured. A government official, Eddy Mugheiry, told IRIN on Thursday the 18 were due to appear for their trial at the Zanzibar High Court. The trouble started, he said, when a "huge number" of CUF supporters who milled around the court were denied entry because there was not enough space in the courtroom to accommodate them. "It was an event that shocked both the government and citizens," Mugheiry said.

"Many people were injured, including the police and journalists. Many are still in hospital," he said. "Some government vehicles and personal cars were damaged in the process." According to the Zanzibar police, about 15 civilians and 14 policemen were injured. The 18 accused have been in detention for more than two years.

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