Security officials in Northern Uganda are demanding the expulsion of a Roman Catholic priest who, they say, is spreading false information about a recent fire at a northern refugee camp. Church workers say the cleric is being targeted for his long-running criticism of the army.
Spanish missionary Father Carlos Rodriguez, who for years has been active in peace talks between the government and a rebel group operating in Northern Uganda, may soon be asked to leave the country - or at least the north - if the military has its way.
The military accuses the priest of spreading lies that a soldier set fire to the Pabbo refugee camp last Sunday and that the army opened fire on those attempting to flee.
Ugandan army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza says the priest should be deported.
"When the security committee in the north called the local leaders in the camp and they had a meeting, they all said they did not know where Rodriguez got his information from," he said. "He should either get out of this country or at worst get out of this place. And they made their recommendations to the National Security Council."
He says the missionary should also leave for his own safety.
But the coordinator of Gulu Archdiocese's Justice and Peace Commission, Catherine Akello, defends the cleric, saying he is merely repeating what eyewitnesses told church and aid workers.
She says people in the camp said a soldier set fire to the camp during the army's early-morning operation and burned down as many as 2,000 huts. She says many men were taken away, and the soldiers threatened to shoot camp residents.
Major Bantariza denies that the army set fire to the camp or shot at people. But he admitted the army was at the camp trying to flush out what he calls rebel collaborators hiding in the camp. The army said it retrieved ammunition and uniforms from the camp.
The cleric would not comment to VOA about the incident or his impending deportation.
"I can only say one thing, that neither me nor any of my superiors have ever been communicated anything officially from any authority, either verbally or in writing," said Father Carlos Rodriguez. "So, therefore, we cannot make any comment about something that we have seen only in the newspapers."
Catherine Akello says the priest has always been a thorn in the army's side.
"Father Carlos has always been open and openly criticizing these people about the operation they are carrying out in the north," she said. "So it seems they have just been waiting for that scapegoat."
Pabbo Camp is one of several so-called protected villages that the Ugandan government has set up to protect civilians from brutal attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army rebels.