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Uganda Relocating Thousands of Refugees by Force, says UN - 2003-09-03


The U.N. refugee agency says the Ugandan government is using force to transfer refugees from a camp in central Uganda to one in the northwest, a charge the government denies.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is appealing to the Ugandan government to allow the agency to be involved in the transfer of about 16,000 refugees from Kiryandongo to Madiokollo. The Ugandan government began the transfer Monday because of overcrowding at the Kiryandongo camp.

UNHCR spokesperson Kitty McKinsey charges that the Ugandan government is using force to relocate the refugees and has denied U.N. workers access to them.

"As far as we know, there was some violence connected with it," she said. "Some of the refugees threw some stones and sticks at the security forces and the security forces responded by firing teargas and bullets. The only information we have is that two refugees were injured."

Uganda's Commissioner of Disaster Management and Refugees, Carlos Twesigomwe, says despite media reports that up to nine refugees were killed during the transfer, the exercise was voluntary and peaceful.

"Nobody died. The exercise was done very well," said Mr. Twesigomwe. "Everybody came out to leave. Right now, we are overwhelmed by the numbers. Everybody wants to leave for this other camp sites in Arua."

The transfer of the 16,000 refugees is expected to continue for two weeks.

Kitty McKinsey of the U.N. refugee agency says although the United Nations and the Ugandan government have been talking about the transfer for several months, the agency was not informed that the transfer would start this week.

But Commissioner Twesigomwe says that the UNHCR knew all along that the transfer would take place this week, and chose not to be involved.

The transfer has been dogged by controversy since the Ugandan government proposed it earlier this year. The United Nations and some refugees say the new location makes them vulnerable to attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group that has been kidnapping and killing people in northern Uganda.

Mr. Twesigomwe denies the concern, saying the rebels have never carried out any attacks in the area where the new camp is located.