From Bor Globe Network by Samuel Richard Egadu in Kampala and Gulu 05 May 2009:
Uganda Probes Alleged Supplies to LRA
Belgian nationals implicated in secret shipments following seizure of trucks in South Sudan.
Uganda’s military says it is investigating Belgian citizens suspected of supplying food and military aid to Ugandan rebels now in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.
Spokesperson for the Uganda military, Major Felix Kulayigye, says the investigation follows last month’s seizure of 13 trucks in the South Sudan town of Yambio, which were apparently intended for the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.
“We are investigating some Belgian nationals for supplying food, military uniform and arms to LRA rebels in DRC,” Kulayigye told IWPR.
“I am not authorised to divulge the details as the investigations are going on. However, there are some Belgians who have been secretly supplying LRA with food, arms and uniforms.”
An official at the Belgian embassy, who declined to be identified, confirmed that the embassy is cooperating with Uganda’s External Security Organisation and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence over the investigation.
“It’s true the Ugandan authorities are investigating some of our citizens over supplies and links to LRA rebels," said the embassy official. "We are closely working with external security in these investigations."
The deputy leader of the Uganda peace talks, Henry Okello Oryem, says the government is taking the apparent attempt to supply the LRA very seriously.
“We are investigation some individuals and non-governmental organisations who are allegedly supplying food and communication equipments to LRA rebels,” said Okello.
In mid-December, the Ugandan army attacked LRA camps in DRC’s Garamba National Park, but failed to kill or capture rebel leader Joseph Kony and his top commanders, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Following the attack, the LRA went on a rampage, killing an estimated 1,000 civilians in the northeastern DRC and South Sudan.
The authorities in the Western Equatoria state of South Sudan last month said they intercepted 13 trucks thought to be carrying food from Uganda to Doruma, a key town in northeastern DRC which sits in the area occupied by the LRA.
According to papers seized at the time, the cargo belonged to Caritas, the Catholic relief agency that previously shipped food to the LRA on the South Sudan-DRC border.
The food had been supplied as rebels and Uganda engaged in peace talks, and was intended to stop the former from raiding local towns and villages.
The authorities seized the trucks in Yambio fearing that the supplies might fall into LRA hands.
Caritas has been cleared of involvement in the incident, said Kulayigye.
“We have established that Caritas was innocent,” he said. “They were not involved. The papers allegedly that the food was for Caritas were fake.”
Now, the investigation has focused on Belgians involved with convoy, “It’s some Belgian nationals who are involved. I am not authorised to give you details until the investigations are over.”
The executive director of Caritas in the Gulu diocese, Bosco Komakech, says the organisation stopped supplying food to the LRA after the collapse of talks at the end of November last year.
The food deliveries began in July 2006, with Caritas trucking supplies to the rebels at the request of the peace talks chief mediator Dr Riek Machar, the vice-president of South Sudan, said Komakech.
“We stop supplying food for to LRA as soon as the peace talks collapsed. We are happy [the Ugandan army] has cleared our name,” he told IWPR. “They should go ahead and investigate these people who are trying to misuse, abuse and tarnish our name.”
In the northern Uganda, meanwhile, officials from the United Nations World Food Programme, WFP, say they will halt the delivery of food aid to the north’s remaining internal refugee camps by July.
The move could affect around 609,000 displaced people who are said to be occupying or living near the region’s internal refugee camps. From the mid 1990s to 2006, nearly two million northern Ugandan were forced to live in 200 camps and were supplied by the WFP.
Remaining camp residents are worried because the region faces food shortages due to devastating rains and floods in 2007 which washed away crops and was followed by a crippling dry spell in 2008.
The food phase out will impact on 329,000 people who are still in camps for internal refugees in the Acholi sub region and 280,000 others in transit camps, according to officials. Transit camps are temporary facilities for people who have left the region’s main camps but have yet to return to their villages.
WFP’s Uganda country director, Stanlake Samkange, says the organisation has already stopped food distribution to 214,000 refugees in the ethnic Acholi region because the war with LRA rebels effectively ended in 2006.
Refugees can now returning to farming, he says.
“More former [refugees] have managed to access their farmland and produce their own food, which has eased the pressure on food aid,” Samkange told IWPR.
Samkange says that although the WFP has stopped distribution, it will continue to monitor the food and nutrition situation.
“We will support [the displaced] through recovery initiatives including cash and vouchers, so as to help them rebuild their livelihoods,” he said.
Uganda’s state minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru, says that the time is right to reduce and eliminate food support.
“The region is now peaceful. [Internal refugees] have access to their land. We thought it right for people to start life without relief food,” he said.
However, many of those still in camps were unhappy with the decision to cut off food supplies.
“Some people are worried about going back to their villages and land due the fear of LRA rebels,” said Kitgum member of parliament Beatrice Atim Anywar.
“The move by WFP to cut the relief food for [displaced people] is very unfortunate,” said Charles Tolit of Atiak, of Amuru district. “Some of us who border Sudan can’t go back to our villages due to fear of attacks by LRA rebels who can cross into the region any time since the army failed to destroy them.”
Others in Amuru say they are worried about spirits which are believed to linger near the bones of those who have died in the past fighting rebels.
“There is no way we can begin going to grow crops in the land where bones and skulls are scattered all over,” said Josephine Amony.
Another Amuru resident, Grace Adoch, said, “We are still in the camps. They should continue to give us food relief until August or September when we harvest. Otherwise, people are going to die.”
Samuel Richard Egadu is an IWPR-trained journalist.