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Uganda Investigates Allegations of Rape by Soldiers

Uganda's defense ministry has been asked to investigate an allegation that soldiers gang-raped women in a displaced persons camp in northern Uganda.

Three soldiers are in custody charged with raping at least one woman and one girl at a camp for people who were displaced by rebel activity in the north.

Ugandan legislator Jane Akwero, who represents a northern constituency, and who presented the allegations to parliament this week, says the defense minister is expected to give more details soon.

"The prime minister has directed our minister of defense, and given him 10 days to report back to parliament," she said. "And I want also to get to know some of the other incidences that might have taken place, and nobody dared report it."

The alleged incidents took place near the end of March. A fourth suspect is still at large.

If the soldiers are found guilty, they could receive the death penalty.

Major Shaban Bantariza, a spokesman for the army, known as the Uganda People's Defense Forces, or UPDF, says it is local militias allied with the army who attack civilian populations, not the defense forces.

"It's very, very, very rare among the regular UPDF," said Major Bantariza. "Where it has happened, many of the times, it is with the militias. And this one was what we call the Frontier Guards of Kitgum."

Major Bantariza says the militia members attacked the victims outside of the camp, and not inside as reported.

Human rights groups have expressed concerns that UPDF soldiers sent up north to defend people from attacks by the dreaded Lord's Resistance Army often end up themselves attacking local civilians.

In a 2003 report, Human Rights Watch said, "government forces themselves have been responsible for human rights violations, including cases of torture and rape, summary execution, and arbitrary detention of suspects."