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Ugandan Cabinet Rejects Calling North A Disaster Area - 2004-02-27

Uganda's Cabinet has rejected a request by parliament to declare northern Uganda a disaster area, in the wake of violent street protests that followed last weekend's rebel attack on a refugee camp, in which more than 200 people were killed.

Presidential Spokesman Francis Onapito Ekomoloit says the government does not believe the volatile situation in northern Uganda warrants President Yoweri Museveni declaring it a disaster area.

"The Cabinet argued, rightly, that it would mean that government would be compelled not to perform other functions. In reality, law and order has not broken down in the area. A lot of government functions still are operating. Based on the advice of Cabinet, the president has no reason to accept to declare the north a disaster zone."

Mr. Ekomoloit says Parliament's main motivation for calling the north a disaster area was to ensure that the international community would send humanitarian aid to the victims of the massacre and surrounding communities.

But, he says, aid from the World Food Program has arrived, and the government has security in the north under control.

Mr. Ekomoloit says the army has set up camp in the northern town of Lira, from which to launch operations against rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army. The rebels are blamed for murdering more than 200 people in the Barlonyo refugee camp last Saturday. The government says it has beefed up security at the other camps since then.

Member of parliament Okulo-Epak says this is the legislature's second attempt in two years to declare the north a disaster area. He says its aim is to prod the international community into sending troops into the north to help restore security.

He says declaring the zone a disaster area would even bolster President Museveni's appeal for International Criminal Court investigation into the February 21st massacre.

But the government, Mr. Okulo-Epak says, apparently does not want to admit defeat.

"The government, obviously, does not want to be embarrassed. The government thinks that, by declaring the north a disaster area, Museveni would probably think that he has lost the war, he's defeated."

Uganda's north has been under random attacks from Joseph Kony's elusive army for at least 17 years. The government has set up camps to protect the population, but that has not put a stop to the violence.