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Uganda Parliament Members Protest Continuing Northern Violence - 2003-11-21

Members of Uganda's Parliament from the north of the country are boycotting the legislature to protest continuing violence in the north.

The member of parliament for Lira District, Margaret Ateng, told VOA Friday she and her colleagues will continue to stay away from Parliament, until the government improves the security situation in the north.

They are also calling for international aid agencies and others to help people affected by the war.

Ms. Ateng says she, her colleagues, clan leaders and local people have met many times with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to discuss their concerns about the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group, which has been killing, kidnapping and looting in the north for at least 16 years.

"But, to our surprise, no changes have come, changes meaning that there's not been a stop to LRA incursions," she said. "Instead, it has worsened. We've seen that, whatever we've been mentioning, whatever we've been stating to be done, whatever advice we've given for things to improve has not been taken up."

Ms. Ateng says, in her district, the rebels have killed an average of 10 people a day for the last 15 days.

The Lira representative is one of 34 members of parliament who walked out late Wednesday.

The Lord's Resistance Army rebel group is led by a self-declared prophet, Joseph Kony, who once declared that Uganda should be ruled by the Biblical Ten Commandments.

According to the United Nations, thousands of civilians have been killed since 1996, more that 20,000 have been kidnapped and about two-million people have been displaced because of the attacks.

Girls kidnapped by the rebel group are forced to become concubines for the fighters, while boys become fighters, often being forced to kill their own families.

A spokeswoman for the president, Mary Okurut, says the president welcomes the boycott, because it calls attention to the dire situation in the north.

"He said that, for him, he was very happy with their walking out of Parliament, because it means, now, they are as angry as he is about the situation," said Ms. Okurut.

She says the president on Thursday told a group of parliament members he is willing to work with them to find a solution.

But Ugandan Army spokesman, Major Shaban Bantariza, disapproves of the legislators' walkout.

"The way they behaved is like, government is unwilling [to provide security], and it is not, and of course they are part and parcel of the same government," said Major Bantariza.

Major Bantariza says the government cannot afford to send more soldiers to the north. Instead, it is training local members of the community to become part of civil defense units, a move he says increases security in the troubled north.