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Uganda Admits Too Few Militiamen Guard Displaced Person's Camp

The Ugandan army admits the local militias guarding the displaced person's camp in which rebels killed almost 200 people during the weekend were too few and too inexperienced to prevent the attack. But while blaming local army commanders who supervise the militias, the government rejects criticism that it is not able to keep the camps safe.

Ugandan army spokesman Shaban Bantariza said rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army chose to attack the Barlonyo displaced person's camp Saturday near Lira because they knew the government militias guarding the camp were not strong enough to protect its nearly 5,000 residents. "The group that was there is still very fresh and that is why the LRA targeted them. The militias who were there were not big enough in numbers and they did not have enough commanders of the regular UPDF [government army], so [the commander] should have reinforced them in time. So there was that mistake on the part of that commander, who has actually been removed already," he said.

According to witnesses, the rebels bombed the settlement late Saturday and set fire to people's houses during a three-hour attack. Women and children were among the more than 200 people who were killed.

Barlonyo camp is one of many so-called protected villages set up by the Ugandan government across the north to protect people against the random and indiscriminate attacks the rebels have been waging on northern populations for at least 17 years.

The camps are being defended mostly by local units, trained by and under the command of the army.

But the army came under fire when camp residents, leaders, members of parliament, religious leaders and others met to talk about the attack and how to avoid similar ones in the future.

A Lira-based Roman Catholic missionary, Father Sebat Ayala, who attended the meeting, said people were furious that the army failed to protect the camp. He said some of the people even accused the army of collaborating with the rebels. "Some people from the government, also in the military, they are connected to the rebels and they are providing them with military equipment, that is how people complained," he said.

He said people find it suspicious that the soldiers guarding the camps regularly manage to flee an area before a rebel attack.

But the Ugandan Army spokesman, Major Bantariza, says if there is any local support for the rebels, it comes from politicians who, he said, supply the rebels with food, equipment, and other supplies.

The Ugandan military has vowed to avenge the rebel massacre.