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Human Rights Group Cites Ugandan Army for Abuses

An international human rights group Tuesday accused the Ugandan army of abusing people living in northern Uganda, where a rebel movement has been attacking the local population for more than 19 years.

Human Rights Watch alleges Ugandan soldiers dispatched to protect northerners from the brutal Lord's Resistance Army are instead committing similar crimes themselves.

This is one of the findings of a report released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday. The report gives details of alleged atrocities committed during the two decades of rebel activity in the north.

According to the U.S.-based group, government soldiers rape, arbitrarily detain, beat and kill people living in camps set up to protect residents against the Lord's Resistance Army. In most cases, the human rights group says, the government does little or nothing to prosecute offenders and the soldiers go unpunished.

The Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, Jemera Rone, says women are particularly vulnerable to attacks by soldiers.

"When they [women] go out of the camp, they really do run a certain risk of being abused by Ugandan soldiers who just see them and take the opportunity because they know they can get away with it," she explained.

Ms. Rone says those who dare report rape and other crimes committed by the army rarely get their cases heard or receive compensation.

She urged the Ugandan government to discipline and prosecute offending soldiers.

The spokesman for the Uganda army, Lieutenant-Colonel Shaban Bantariza, denies that the government is turning a blind eye to abuses committed by soldiers.

He says four soldiers have been executed since 2002 for murdering civilians, one captain is in jail for deserting his post during a rebel attack and three soldiers are currently being investigated for rape.

"UPDF also has elements of people who commit offenses, but that it is widespread violation of human rights with impunity - that's outrageous," he said.

He says the army has rescued 12,000 people from the rebels.

The Lord's Resistance Army has inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda, including rape, kidnapping, torture, and murder.

More than 1.5 million people across the north have moved into camps guarded by the army.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court is currently investigating war crimes committed in northern Uganda after July 1, 2002.