Uganda rebel attacks mount, UN sees crisis in north
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ Every night in a town in northern Uganda, about 6,000 people sleep at the local hospital. Fifteen thousand more take refuge in other public buildings, driven from their homes by fear of rebel groups.
A report by the United Nations, issued Wednesday in Nairobi, Kenya, describes these conditions in its warning that the northern third of Uganda is in a state of crisis because of a spreading rebel insurgency.
For 10 years, President Yoweri Museveni has fought rebels in the north. Now, the threat is growing in central and western Uganda, the report said. Already, fighting has forced thousands of people to flee their villages in the north and west.
The U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Department says health and education services are in a state of collapse and that ``rampant insecurity″ is preventing relief agencies from providing even basic emergency assistance.
The United Nations blamed two groups _ the West Nile Bank Front and the Lord’s Resistance Army _ for attacks on civilians in the north.
Based on a weeklong fact-finding mission in November, the report said a hospital in the northern town of Lachor recently started seeing patients whose feet were hacked off by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Calling the attacks grave human rights abuses, the report said the patients were maimed as punishment for riding bicycles, which the rebels say can be used to deliver intelligence to the Ugandan army.
The same hospital is packed nightly with 6,000 people who come to the 446-bed facility because they are afraid to stay home. Other public buildings provide evening refuge to 15,000 more, the report said.
UNICEF, the children’s charity, estimates that 3,000 schoolchildren were abducted in 1995 and 1996 by rebels targeting them as recruits.
Headlines in Kampala’s newspapers report rebel and government casualties in the north, northwest and, most recently, the west.
``The country is under siege,″ a university political science researcher told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. ``The army is fighting different rebel groups in different directions.″
Museveni, who seized power in 1986 after a six-year war, won a presidential vote in May. In June, Uganda held its first legislative elections in 16 years.
Museveni brought stability after the ruinous regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, but that stability is now threatened by rebel groups. They include:
_The Lord’s Resistance Army: It aims to replace Museveni with a government based on the Ten Commandments. Fighting since 1988, it has become a serious challenge to the army in the north. Uganda is predominantly Christian, with a growing Muslim population.
_The West Nile Bank Front: Led by a member of Idi Amin’s former government, it started fighting in 1991 and has taken over the northwestern corner of Uganda that borders Sudan and Zaire.
_The Allied Democratic Force: The newest group, on Nov. 13 it started attacking army positions and villages in the west from bases across the border in Zaire. It has not declared its political objectives, but the government says it is made up of Muslim youths who want an Islamic state in Uganda. The attacks have forced tens of thousands of people from their villages near the town of Kasese, about 200 miles west of Kampala.
_The Uganda Federal Democratic Alliance: Fighting for the establishment of a federation of semiautonomous regions, it attacks police stations and other government targets in central Uganda. Its leader, Duncan Kafeero, lives in exile in Britain.
``These rebel groups have nothing in common, but they have a common facilitation from Sudan,″ presidential press secretary Hope Kivengere said Friday.
Sudan has denied aiding Uganda’s rebels. Instead, it accuses Uganda of aiding Sudanese rebels. Uganda severed diplomatic ties with Sudan in April 1995.
Despite increasing pressure from the legislature to reach a political settlement with the rebels, Museveni supports a military solution.
``My answer is to build up the army so that it becomes an important shield to the constitution,″ Museveni told reporters recently. ``Our army, supported by the population, has the capacity to defend the constitution. Those engaging in treason will perish.″