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Protester Beaten to Death at Uganda Peace March - 2004-02-25

A peace march in the northern Ugandan town of Lira turned ugly when at least one protester was beaten to death, and police fired into the crowd, injuring several people, according to government officials.

The peace march, meant to mourn - and protest - the deaths of more than 200 people massacred by rebels at Barlonyo camp, turned violent, and the angry mob beat at least one person to death.

A Roman Catholic Missionary stationed in the northern Ugandan town of Lira, Father Sebat Ayala, was one of the event's organizers. He says the aim was to pray for the dead, and urge the Ugandan government and international community to intervene in the north's 17-year civil war.

"We warned the people not to come up with wrong intentions," said Father Ayala. "Out of 100,000 [protesters] there is always some wrong elements, and we have condemned very strongly those who killed that person."

Father Ayala says people were very angry with the Ugandan government and international community for not preventing the attacks on the camp by rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army.

He says he saw banners and heard slogans saying, "Kofi Annan, what are you doing?", "United Nations, intervene immediately!" and "We want peace, stop killing innocent people."

Father Ayala describes what happened next: "There was some confusion. There was a lot of tension, a lot of anger, and, unfortunately, one was killed by the mob - I saw with my own eyes. Then, it was becoming too much, so the soldiers came in. They started shooting, and then we had to call off the march. They shoot for almost one hour sporadically, but only two were slightly wounded," said Father Ayala.

Ugandan army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza blames the organizers for fomenting the violence. "You cannot organize what you call a peaceful demonstration at this time when people are still emotionally touched by the death of their people," he said. "That is wrong. It was wrong timing."

Major Bantariza says the crowd became very rowdy, stoning cars, and attacking army and government offices. He said the situation appears to be under control.

"The police are still handling it," said Major Bantariza. "If they get overwhelmed and they seek for our assistance, definitely we shall render it. But as of now, the army has not yet intervened at all."

Observers say the three-hour attack on Barlonyo camp last Saturday calls into question Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's claim that the army has defeated the rebels.

President Museveni has visited the area, and criticized the army for what he called its poor coordination.

The United Nations has sent a team to the region to assess the humanitarian needs of the people following the massacre, and the World Food Program said it would try to distribute food to 5,000 people for two weeks, if the security situation permits.