AP Summary of Status of Civil War in Northern Uganda

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CHEGE MBITIRU Associated Press Writer
GULU, Uganda (AP) -- A decade after winning a guerrilla war against corrupt rulers, President Yoweri Museveni brought Uganda from economic desolation to the free market. He won his first democratic electoral test by a landslide.

But as a new parliament was sworn in Tuesday, recent events revealed that Museveni still faces a large task -- a battle against two rebel groups for control over the northern third of this East African country. On June 24, members of the West Nile Bank Front attacked a disco in northwestern Arua district, killing 11 people and injuring 23. Three days later in the same area, a land mine believed planted by the WNBF exploded under a military truck, killing three soldiers and injuring 18.

On June 30, rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army raided two villages near Gulu, the district administrative capital 190 miles north of Kampala, looting shops and forcing people to flee. Northerners, who dominated the military and government in Uganda since independence from Britain until Museveni's victory in 1986, are slow to accept the leader from the south.

"We have heard Museveni's guns, but not his gospel," said Norbert Mao, a lawyer and member of the Acholi tribe, the region's largest. The West Nile Bank Front wants the return of former dictator Idi Amin Dada -- the favorite son of Uganda's extreme northwest and in exile in Saudi Arabia since 1979. The government says the WNBF operates from southern Sudan.

In Gulu district, the shadowy LRA has survived for nine years under the leadership of former Roman Catholic lay worker Joseph Kony. He says Museveni should be overthrown and the country ruled by the Ten Commandments.

James Obita, LRA spokesman in neighboring Kenya, says the insurgents want development, prosperity and justice.

In the past six months, LRA rebels have stepped up their attacks, killing and maiming villagers and abducting youths to serve with them. The rebels threatened to cut off the noses and ears of those who voted in parliamentary elections.

District Commissioner Louis Otika said the LRA has rendered most of his territory ungovernable. "Nearly all productive activities have come to a halt or slowed down considerably because of insecurity," Otika said. "People are not able to cultivate, and there is an imminent threat of starvation."

Thousands of people have been killed in rebel attacks on both the army and civilians, Otika said. An estimated 50,000 people have fled their homes and an undetermined number abducted by the rebels. Most rural schools and clinics have been burned or closed. Because of ambushes, vehicles travel in convoys with military escorts.

Both northern rebel groups are rooted in ethnic divisions and recent history. The British colonial power recruited its native army among northern warriors, and it was they who formed independent Uganda's first army.

Two-time president Milton Obote used the army in 1966 to overthrow Edward Mutesa, Uganda's first figurehead president and a southerner. Twenty years later, Museveni used his essentially southern guerrilla army to unseat Obote, a northerner.

The insurgency reflects widespread Acholi tribal resentment against Museveni, said Mao, an opponent of Museveni.

"We are marginalized, and we believe it is official policy," Mao said, citing terrible roads, erratic electricity, lack of public services, poor communications and no industries in the north.

Museveni has reportedly deployed 7,000 troops for a final northern offensive, and the Roman Catholic church has named three bishops to mediate the conflict.

"You can only mediate among willing partners," Mao said. "At the moment Museveni is only interested in a military solution."

Copyright 1996. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.