Uganda: UN DHA IRIN Humanitarian Situation Report, 3/15/97

Uganda: UN DHA IRIN Humanitarian Situation Report, 3/15/97

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network

Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129

15 March 1997


1. This report follows two recent DHA/IRIN field trips to Uganda and describes developments affecting the humanitarian situation during January and February. The first section of the report describes the current situation in Kitgum, Gulu, Arua and Kasese districts. Part two reviews the changing situation along Uganda's borders with Zaire and Sudan and looks at relations between Uganda and its neighbours. The report concludes by discussing the prospects for an improvement in the humanitarian situation.

2. Readers are encouraged to read this report in conjunction with IRIN's Humanitarian Situation Report of 4 December 1996, which provides an overview of the situation in Uganda. Readers are asked to note that this report focusses on the complex emergencies in Uganda and does not discuss Uganda's general food security problems, which have been the subject of a recent Government of Uganda emergency appeal.


Kitgum District

3. In mid-January a group of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels launched a series of attacks on Kitgum's civilian population, leaving an estimated 312 people dead and 60,000 people displaced from their homes (1). The attacks took place in the north of the district, close to Uganda's border with Sudan, primarily in and around the villages of Lokung, Palabek and Padibe. According to reports from people displaced by the violence, the LRA entered their villages and distributed leaflets telling them to leave for Kitgum town. The rebels then attacked village residents with axes and clubs and set ablaze their houses and granaries.

4. Families fled in terror towards Kitgum town, along with injured people who had managed to escape. A number of people with deep head wounds and other injuries are currently being treated in Kitgum hospital. According to estimates compiled by the local authorities and provided by AVSI, the Italian NGO, there are some 12,113 displaced persons at the public school in Kitgum and another 4,669 at a hill top in the town. In and around the villages themselves, there are an estimated 22,140 displaced people at Palabek, 11,941 at Lokung, 4,062 at Padibe and 6,987 at Atanga (2).

5. The health of the displaced persons, crowded into the temporary sites, is a matter of growing concern. There are reports of about 100 cholera cases in Palabek, Padibe and Hill Top camps and of measles cases in Palabek, Attange and Gandyang, a newly-established camp. Water and sanitation is reported to be poor, especially in Palabek and Lokung. The displaced persons are currently being assisted by the Government of Uganda and UN agencies and NGOs which are scaling up their programmes. They include WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, AVSI, OXFAM, CRS, MSF and World Vision. Relief activities within the district are coordinated by the Kitgum Disaster Committee.

6. The LRA's attacks, which continued into February, and the large-scale displacement they caused, took the district completely by surprise, as Kitgum had until January enjoyed far better security than Gulu district, its westerly neighbour. Kitgum, reported to be the LRA's transit point into and out of Sudan, has experienced attacks and abductions in the past, but the present scale of violence is without precedent. John Bosco Oryem, Kitgum council chairman, said that `the January attack was a new development' because `normally the rebels pass through the district and abduct in small numbers... [b]ut this time they killed and the numbers were enormous.' (3)

7. The attacks have prompted debate within Uganda as to the reasons for the current series of LRA atrocities. According to the accounts of former abductees reported in the national press, the LRA is avenging the population of Kitgum for its alleged cooperation with the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), and for the reportedly high levels of desertion from the LRA of rebels originating from the district. It also appears that the rebels may be seeking to displace populations in order to establish bases within Kitgum and points where they can deposit arms. This seems to be confirmed by national press reports of the UPDF discovering arms caches in Kitgum, including ammunition near Palabek and 29 anti-tank mines found near Lokung.

Gulu District

8. Insecurity has become a major fact of life for most of Gulu's population in recent years, and during January a series of attacks in Gulu town's suburbs highlighted the vulnerability of civilian populations to the LRA's campaign of terror. According to reports from the government-owned New Vision newspaper, attacks in the suburbs of Gulu town left 12 people dead during the weekend of 4/5 January and 14 dead on 18 January . The killings in the countryside continued during January; among the incidents reported was the 15 January killing of an estimated 26 people in villages around the River Olik, about 15 miles north-west of Gulu town. Military engagements between the LRA and the UPDF were also reported during January and February.

9. Every evening, about 13,000 people enter Gulu town from neighbouring villages to spend the night in the town for their own protection (4). Meanwhile, around Gulu district as a whole, most of the district's population of 390,000 people are now living in so-called `protected villages'. According to figures from the local authorities, there are now 281,000 people living in 15 such sites around the district, a figure which includes resident populations and the displaced people who have joined them (5). Since November 1996 the UPDF has been encouraging people to move to these locations for their own protection. Politicians and soldiers are also on record as saying that the villages will be an important part of the UPDF's strategy to isolate the LRA and deny its members food, freedom of movement and the ability to re-group.

10. The World Food Programme (WFP) has decided to implement its food relief to the sites through the UPDF, arguing that the security situation in Gulu is such as to prevent any other way of working. WFP's emergency operation aims to provide food for 70,000 vulnerable people in Gulu district between March and August, as well as 40,000 people in Kitgum. The agency hopes that the Government will step in to address other food relief needs arising from the current emergency.

11. Humanitarian agencies and NGOs are divided as to whether to assist in the `protected villages'. It appears that basic services in the villages are inadequate and that public health will be threatened unless international agencies intervene. Humanitarian agencies are, however, reluctant to be seen to be helping implement what they regard as a military strategy, while also questioning whether the villages will protect people or actually make them more vulnerable to attack. The LRA has already stated its opposition to the villages and attacks have taken place despite the presence of UPDF troops.

12. The `protected villages' are a risky strategy; by gathering people together in crowded conditions, with little to do except wait for the next relief handout, there is a danger the Government will further alienate the very people it would like to count as supporters. This danger will of course be greater if services in the villages are inadequate. It remains to be seen which agencies will decide to provide the assistance which will undoubtedly be needed. Agencies and NGOs currently working in Gulu town include UNICEF, World Vision, Oxfam/Acord and MSF-Holland as well as the Church of Uganda and the Catholic diocese.

13. The insecurity in Gulu has undermined the livelihoods of most people, which are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture. While the cattle population has been decimated over the course of several years, the recent insecurity has also undermined the ability of farm families to harvest their crops and prepare for the forthcoming rainy season. The last harvest, which would have been a bumper crop due to good rains, rotted in the fields as farmers were too frightened to spent time on their land. The ongoing insecurity and mass displacement, as well as the burning of granaries and the destruction of tools by the LRA, threaten to prevent farm families from planting for the next rains, which will lead to food aid dependence well beyond the period envisaged in WFP's current emergency programme.

14. The education and health systems, which were in a state of collapse prior to the establishment of protected villages, will now need to be revived to meet the needs of Gulu's population in the changed context. It is also to be hoped that measures will be put in place to enhance the protection of children, who have been victims of a horrifying LRA abductions campaign which continues unabated, and to combat the spread of landmines, which remain a source of death and injury and an obstacle to the resumption of agricultural activity.

15. As the UN system seeks to respond to the array of humanitarian issues created by the current situation, UNDP in January created a UN Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) for Uganda, as a forum for policy deliberations and the coordination of UN humanitarian assistance to displaced populations across the north of the country. In this context, UNDP recently launched a $5,357,000 inter-agency appeal to provide assistance to over 180,000 displaced people in northern Uganda.

Arua District

16. Arua district, bordered by both Sudan and Zaire, has been subjected to widespread insecurity over recent years as a result of the activities of the West Nile Bank Front, which for many years had bases in Zaire. The insecurity continued during January, with several incidents including attacks on Sudanese refugees in Rhino camp, an ambush on a convoy accompanying two MPs, an attack on the hospital at Yumbe near the Sudan border, as well as cattle rustling and looting.

17. During February Imvepi camp was attacked by the Uganda National Rescue Front II, a splinter group of the WNBF, and six Sudanese refugees had their ears cut off. Later in February, Ikafe refugee camp was attacked by 30 unidentified men and 6 refugees were shot dead, 7 were injured, and one had his ears cut off for alleged cooperation with the UPDF. These acts of mutilation, which bear a strong similarity to similar atrocities in Gulu, are the first of their kind in Arua.

18. Arua district is home to about 100,000 Sudanese refugees, almost half of Uganda's total Sudanese refugee population. They were settled in four camps; Koboko, Ikafe and Imvepi, to the north-east of Arua town, and Rhino camp to the south-west. As a result of attacks by the WNBF, however, many of those refugees have been displaced. Within the Ikafe camp area, for example, an estimated 33,000 people out of an original camp size of 55,000, have been displaced from their homes. The insecurity in Arua has also displaced Ugandans from their homes; there are reported to be several thousand displaced people in Koboko town and in the counties of Maracha, Terego and Obongi.

19. Displaced refugees find themselves struggling to survive in often desperate conditions. Whereas before they were able to supplement food rations with their own cultivation, having been displaced from the land they are now solely dependent on food relief. This is of particular concern given the fact that insecurity has made it very difficult to truck food relief to the district and WFP is currently supplying half-rations.

20. The attacks against the refugees appear to be politically motivated, as the WNBF is believed to suspect some Sudanese refugees of supporting the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting a protracted war against the Islamic Government of Sudan. The Ugandan Government, for its part, has alleged on numerous occasions that the WNBF is being backed by the Sudanese Government, along with both the LRA and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which is active in western Uganda (see below).

Kasese, Kabarole District

21. Since mid-November 1996 a group of Ugandan rebels called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have caused insecurity and population displacement in the Kasese area to the east of the Ruwenzori mountains. Initially the ADF took control of Mpondwe border post and the nearby town of Bwera, but the UPDF soon regained control of the area. Most of the 25,000 people who had been displaced from their homes into the plains gradually returned to their villages.

22. The ADF continued to mount attacks during January and February and there have been a number of serious incidents, including killings of abductees and an attack at a burial service in Bushenyi in which five people were killed. Most of the incidents, however, have been acts of banditry, such as attacks on buses and trading centres. The rebels are reported to have split up into small groups and to have moved further afield than previously, towards Fort Portal to the north and into Queen Elizabeth Park to the south. A number of reports in the New Vision state that the rebels are short of food and ammunition.

23. The scattering of the ADF rebels within Uganda is the result of the takeover of eastern Zaire by the Zairean ADFL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo/Zaire) rebels lead by Laurent Kabila. As the Zairean rebels pushed northwards along Zaire's border with Uganda during January, the Ugandan rebels found themselves unable to operate out of Zaire. Ugandan security sources, quoted in an article in the New Vision, welcomed the capture of Beni and Bunia airports by the Zairean rebels, saying that it would prevent the ADF from obtaining further supplies from Sudan, which the Ugandan authorities accuse of backing the rebels (see below).


24. Many observers of Uganda argue that prospects for peace in the country are bound up with Uganda's relations with Zaire and Sudan, and in particular the situation along their common borders. The border situation is currently changing, as Zaire's ADFL have established control along Uganda's border with Zaire and as the SPLA seek to regain lost territory in southern Sudan, along Uganda's northern border. These developments have been accompanied by increasingly hostile accusations and recriminations between Uganda, Zaire and Sudan.

25. In January the Zairean Army made a statement accusing Uganda of sending several thousand Ugandan troops to support the ADFL rebels. The Ugandan Government, in a Foreign Ministry statement, described the accusations as `false and baseless' and reiterated its support for Zaire's territorial integrity. The same statement also noted that President Mobutu had never acted on promises to disarm ex-Rwandan Government soldiers and Interahamwe militiamen who were destabilising neighbouring countries from within Zaire. In February the Zairean authorities claimed a Ugandan military cargo plane carrying soldiers and equipment had crashed on the Zairean side of the Ruwenzori mountains, citing this as proof of the Ugandan army's involvement in the war in eastern Zaire. The Ugandan army denied the charge.

26. Whatever the truth of these allegations, it is clear that as the Zairean ADFL rebels have pushed northwards they have established control over territory where the ADF and WNBF had their bases. Indeed, as the ADFL moved north, taking Beni, Bunia, Mahagi, Aru and Ariwara, there were several reports in Ugandan newspapers of direct clashes between the Zairean rebels and the ADF and WNBF. With the ADFL controlling Uganda's entire western border with Zaire, it appears that the ADF have entered Uganda and broken up into smaller groups, while WNBF fighters have scattered eastwards into Uganda and north into Sudan. In the medium- and long-term the loss of Ugandan rebel bases in Zaire is expected is widely expected to improve the security situation in western Uganda.

27. The war of words between Uganda and Sudan also escalated in January and in February Sudan twice bombed Moyo town in northern Uganda. The accusations began with statements by several Sudanese Ministers that Uganda was massing troops along Sudan's southern border in preparation for an attack, and that Uganda was conspiring with Ethiopia and Eritrea, accused of backing rebels in eastern Sudan, to overthrow the Government in Khartoum (6). The Ugandan Government repeatedly denied the allegations, describing the conflict in southern Sudan as `an internal problem'.

28. Museveni's statement echoed previous remarks on relations between Uganda and Sudan, in which he has welcomed efforts to broker peace between the two countries while expressing scepticism about Sudan's willingness to live up to its commitments. In his New Year address to the nation, Museveni said that following the signing of an Iranian-sponsored peace accord between Uganda and Sudan on 8 September 1996, Sudan was bombing Uganda `before the ink was dry'. He suggested the Sudanese government `is not serious about peace. They seem to have an agenda which they must carry out at all costs.'(7)

29. During the weekend of 8/9 March, the SPLA began an offensive in southern Sudan, and since then are reported to have gained control of several towns: Kaya, Gumuli, Kajo Kaji, Bazi, Kimba, Foki, and Morobo. Sudanese army spokesman General Mohamed al Sanousi Ahmed accused Uganda of having led the attack on Kaya, a claim denied by Eriya Kategaya, Uganda's Foreign Minister (8). The spokesman for the Sudanese army also claimed that attacks against Yei and Bazi were launched from ADFL-held areas in eastern Zaire (9). The SPLA offensive is currently ongoing.

30. The Ugandan Government has alleged for many years that the LRA is based in southern Sudan and receives the active support of the Government of Sudan. Certainly, people displaced in the border area by LRA attacks claim that the LRA came out of, and retreat back into, southern Sudan. It may therefore be expected that as the SPLA moves to establish control over southern Sudan, this will have implications for the security situation in northern Uganda. On previous occasions when the SPLA has controlled Sudan's southern border, LRA activities have been curtailed (10).

31. Within Uganda, political debate continues as to the best way of bringing peace to the north. The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs released its report on the war in the north, recommending continued dialogue between Uganda and Sudan and strengthening the UPDF to deal with the rebels militarily. The Committee stopped short of calling on the Government to talk directly to the rebels, but in a Minority Report two MPs from the north, Omara Atubo and Norbert Mao, called for direct talks, saying no stone should be left unturned in the search for peace.

32. In the past, President Museveni has expressed his unwillingness to talk to the rebels unless all of the LRA's victims say they are in favour of talks. In his recently-released autobiography, `Sowing the Mustard Seed', Museveni states that, `On the issue of security I refuse to talk to the bandits, not because they are armed opponents of the government, but because they are criminals... What Kony's bandits are doing is not a crime against the state: it is a crime against the population. They kill peasants, who have nothing to do with state power; they kill young people or kidnap them to make them cannon fodder; they rape women; they marry girls by force; and they spread AIDS in the north. These are crimes against humanity on a massive scale. I find it completely distasteful that people do not condemn with one voice these crimes of Kony and his bandits.'(11)


33. The current humanitarian situation in northern Uganda remains grave. Attacks on civilians and refugees are a daily occurrence, often resulting in deaths and horrific injuries. An estimated 100,000 people are displaced within Gulu district and swelling the size of existing settlements designated as `protected villages', raising serious concerns about public health. In Kitgum an estimated 60,000 people have been displaced from their homes by LRA violence, while in Arua tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees have been displaced from their camps by WNBF attacks. While this situation prevails, the food security of communities across the north is rapidly being eroded, raising the spectre of famine or future dependence on food relief. The insecurity also severely impedes access for agencies attempting to provide humanitarian assistance.

34. Medium-term prospects for an improvement in the humanitarian situation in northern and western Uganda are inextricably linked with developments along Uganda's common borders with Zaire and Sudan. The takeover of eastern Zaire's border with Uganda by ADFL rebels appears to have made it more difficult for both the Ugandan ADF rebels and WNBF fighters to operate out of Zaire. This is widely expected to lead to improved security in western Uganda over the coming months. The situation in northern Uganda is also expected to be affected by developments in southern Sudan, where the SPLA is seeking to regain control of towns currently under Sudanese Government control. In the past, SPLA control over southern Sudan's border with Uganda has curtailed LRA activities in northern Uganda.

35. In the long-term, Uganda will also need to address the development gap between southern and northern Uganda if lasting peace is to be secured. Northern Uganda's current state of crisis merely exacerbates a situation in which the north has lagged behind the south in terms of agriculture, industry, infrastructural development, education and health services. This situation has fuelled resentment and grievances in the north and created a context in which northerners have a lower stake in Uganda's development than their southern counterparts. Unless and until this situation is addressed, something which in turn depends upon improved security in the north, Uganda will find it difficult to achieve lasting stability and economic development.


1. The figure of 312 killed was compiled by the New Vision, based on lists from local councils and chiefs and reported in the New Vision, 22.1.97. The figure of 60,000 is based on estimates by the local authorities and was provided by AVSI, the Italian NGO. The precise estimate is that 61,912 people had been displaced by the violence as of 27.1.97.

2. AVSI, Internally Displaced People in Kitgum District, 24.2.97.

3. AFP, Rebels visit terror on northern Ugandan residents, 27.1.97.

4. Based upon figures compiled by the local authorities and MSF-Holland.

5. The locations and sizes of the 15 `protected villages' are known to DHA/IRIN and can be provided to interested humanitarian agencies.

6. AFP, Sudan accuses Uganda of joining plot, 27.1.97.

7. BBC Monitoring, Radio Kampala, 31.12.96.

8. AFP, Uganda denies it attacked Sudanese town, 10.3.97.

9. IPS, SPLA rebels occupy Sudanese town, 10.3.97.

10. Africa Confidential, Uganda/Sudan - Bordering on war, 21.7.95.

11. Yoweri K. Museveni, `Sowing the Mustard Seed', Macmillan, 1997.


[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts from this report should include attribution to the original sources mentioned, not simply "DHA".]

Date: Sat, 15 Mar 1997 21:20:40 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Uganda: UN DHA IRIN Humanitarian Situation Report, 15 Mar 97, 97.3.15 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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