North leaders dispute report declaring Uganda mine-free

Demining officials inspect an area in Lamwo District recently. PHOTO BY CISSY MAKUMBI

What you need to know:

Unclear. More unexploded ordinances are still being discovered in parts of northern Uganda despite governments declaration that Uganda is now mine free.

A recent report released by the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness indicating that Uganda is mine-free, has been described by people in northern Uganda as a hoax following the discovery of more unexploded ordinances, including landmines.

Days after the government pronouncement that Uganda is now mine-free, several land mines and unexploded ordinances were unearthed by locals in Latanya and Lukung Sub-counties in Pader and Lamwo districts respectively.

While speaking at the Media Centre in Kampala last week, the State Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Mr Musa Ecweru, declared Uganda free of landmines and that it was making arrangements to rehabilitate and compensate victims of the mines, especially in northern Uganda.

In Latanya, two fresh cases of unexploded ordinances were reported in Latigi and Dure parishes as locals went about their usual gardening and rebuilding processes. The district councillor representing Latanya Sub-county, Mr Robert Komakech Obina, expressed shock over the government’s recent report, saying it’s unfortunate because locals continue to discover the unexploded ordinances in their former homesteads and gardens.

“Not all places in Acholi sub-region have been cleared of landmines, just early this month, a team of 25 landmine experts were sent to the UPDF’s 5th Division headquarters in Achol-Pii to commence mapping and a landmine clearing exercise in the district,” Mr Komakech said last week.

In Lamwo District that had the biggest landmine field, the district councillor for Lokung Sub-county which borders South Sudan, Mr Ben Okeny Bukenya, said although a good number of people have reintegrated into their ancestral homes, skepticism and worry still linger in their minds.

Mr Mathew Ocen Akiya, the chairman of Lamwo District, recently said: “Some people still cannot go to their villages because not all the villages have been cleared of the landmines.” He added that rushing them to return to their homes could be a recipe for disaster.

But the 4th Division public relations officer, Lt. Henry Oware, said the declaration does not necessarily mean that no single mine and other unexploded ordinances cannot be found in those areas. Lt. Oware added that more mop-up exercises would be carried out when the cases arise.

“The minister’s declaration means that the biggest task has been accomplished in the demining programme, indicating that we cannot rule out emergency outbursts,” Lt. Oware said.