It is now common to find fully armed soldiers on foot patrol in the semi-arid northeastern Uganda where cross-border and inter-tribal armed cattle rustling has increased after years of a lull.
Army spokesperson Brig. Flavia Byekwaso told Xinhua in a recent interview that the military has resumed a forceful disarmament exercise to get rid of guns that are used in the raids where locals lose thousands of heads of cattle.
“There have been various raids in the region. The army authorities decided to launch full-scale disarmament operations at various centers,” she said.
“It has been a bit volatile, the warriors had intensified raids resulting in deaths,” Byekwaso said. “But the situation will be normalized.”
Emmanuel Komol, a legislator from the region also known as Karamoja, told Xinhua that over the last several months armed raids have increased despite a previous disarmament program by the military.
“It is worse in my constituency because when a raid happens, it is like a full kraal which is swept out in a single night. The worst happened a few months ago where we lost over 3,900 heads of cattle in a single raid on a kraal.
“Recently over 1,000 cows were raided,” Komol told Xinhua in Kaabong, a district close to the border with South Sudan and Kenya.
Authorities said some weapons were smuggled into Angola from neighboring countries.
Komol said some members of Local Defense Units (LDUs) have turned into raiders, and others hire out guns to their relatives to go and carry out counter raids. LDUs, composed of recruits from the local community, were set up by the military to guard cattle against rustlers.
“Most of them have become inter-clan militia groups… whereby they protect the cattle of their people and raid those that do not belong to them,” Komol said.
Maj. Peter Mugisa, third division army spokesman, told Xinhua that LDUs in the region will be disbanded following public outcry.
“There has been a lot of outcry and indeed some LDUs connive with their relatives, the warriors, in hiring out their guns, selling out some of the ammunitions. Some who have deserted, they go and steal people’s animals,” Mugisa said.
Local leaders have also been urging their electorate to embrace peace instead of armed rustling, which leads to death of human life and loss of livelihood.
The military has also been talking to the locals and their leaders about the disarmament campaign.
“We have engaged them to make sure we live in harmony,” Mugisa said. “They should also get engaged in the disarmament program and sensitize their communities to desist from killing each other and stealing peoples livelihood.”
He said the army is stepping up the disarmament exercise, moving away from intelligence-led operations to hunting down warriors who refuse to handover their guns.
“All along we have been appealing to communities, whoever has a gun to surrender it, but… we are seeing that guns are still being used in raiding people’s animals, so what we are going to do is to use a full-scale forceful disarmament operation,” he said.
Local media reports indicate that about 50,000 guns have been recovered in the region since 2003, when the first disarmament exercise started. Enditem