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Uganda Army Returning Cattle to Rightful Owners


In Uganda, a senior army official is returning more than 1,000 cattle to herdsmen in the volatile Karamoja district of northeastern Uganda. The cattle had been stolen earlier by armed warriors, highlighting the problems of cattle rustling and arms flow in the area. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye tells VOA the chief of defense forces is in Karamoja to hand the branded cattle back to their rightful owners, after they were stolen by about 200 armed warriors.

He describes how the cattle were seized last week.

"A group of soldiers on a routine patrol came under attack from a group that we otherwise thought were pastoralists looking after their cattle," he said. "Four soldiers were killed instantly. So, in the ensuing fight, a number of warriors, I think about 45, were killed, and they abandoned the cattle."

Kulayigye says the cattle were branded at different locations, making it obvious they were stolen.

But some area members of parliament have accused the Ugandan government of being excessive in its hunt for the thieves, saying that the army carried out aerial bombardments and ground attacks that have left more than 80 people dead. They say other animals were impounded that had not been stolen.

Kulayigye says helicopters were used during the operation, but only for reconnaissance purposes and to chase the thieves, who he says were hiding in the nearby hills.

The incident highlights the long-running problem of cattle rustling in the district and surrounding areas. Several ethnic groups that live in Karamoja district carry out armed raids against each other and ethnic groups in surrounding districts.

Last year, the Ugandan government launched a disarmament program to gather the estimated 40,000 guns circulating in the district. Kulayigye says the Ugandan government has recovered about 21,000 weapons.

Officials say the arms are believed to come mostly from Somalia and southern Sudan.

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