BILL OKETCH: New rebel group pursued in Uganda

Published: Monday, Oct. 13, 2008

The authorities say they fear a new rebel group has been formed that may take over from 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, where it has conducted raids on local villages and forced thousands to flee.

"We think the (new) rebels are preparing to fight for the same cause that (LRA leader Joseph) Kony did," said Kenneth Ojoro, a local leader of the ethnic Lango community in northern Uganda.

The LRA claimed to be fighting President 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 group is believed to be located in the Masindi district in western Uganda. It appears to be camped in the popular Murchison Falls Park, where it is 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 the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

The emergence of a new rebel force has provoked a response from the military. Army spokesman Maj. 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."

According to some Masindi residents still living in refugee camps built during the war with the LRA, the new rebel group may be headed by Peter Karim, who used to command a band of insurgents in Uganda's West Nile region.

Since the late 1990s, however, Karim has been active in the Ituri area of eastern DRC, and has been affiliated with the notorious Front des Nationalistes et Integrationnistes, FNI, a Lendu militia headed by Colonel Mathieu Ngudjolo.

Ngudjolo and another Congolese rebel leader, Germaine 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, on Feb. 24, 2003.

In advance of the DRC's 2006 election, Karim and his militia were reportedly offered an amnesty and positions in the Congolese army, which apparently were not accepted.

Additionally, 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 from DRC for arms and ammunition. The report also identified him as former Ugandan soldier and timber contractor in Paidha, a Ugandan town on the DRC border.

In March 2007, reports surfaced that Karim had agreed to the surrender of 170 of his troops, who including numerous children, to U.N. peacekeepers in the Ituri region, claiming that he wanted peace. Karim and his senior deputies, however, refused to hand themselves in because they were unhappy with the terms they were offered, say reports.

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," Odur said. "We hope with the latest development, the rebels will have no arms to destabilize the region."

The recent arrests and deployment of the Ugandan military in 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 (new) 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 destabilizing northern Uganda."

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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