Uganda leader's key problem may be his own Army
Uganda's President Milton Obote is planning a campaign to destroy once and for all the militant antigovernment groups that have recently resumed guerrilla activity against his regime, say sources in Kampala, Uganda's capital.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But one of Obote's problems is still the undisciplined nature of the Ugandan Army, which has been accused of perpetrating atrocities in the areas around Kampala. Even Vice-President and Defense Minister Paulo Muwanga recently admitted that the soldiers were responsible for widespread incidents, which are reducing Ugandan trust in their Army.
This has to a large extent encouraged the anti-Obote groups to create as much alarm as possible.
Obote's answer to Army deficiencies is to create a special force of vigilantes, recruited from his own Uganda People's Congress Party, to counter rebel activity in the countryside.
A group of 600 men completing a political and military course at Entebbe were told they must be the government's ''eyes and ears'' and report ''wrong elements'' to the Army.
But diplomats in Kampala say that the confused situation, with rebels back in action and the Army in the usual disarray, encourages criminal elements become more active. In the past two weeks 23 cars belonging to diplomats and aid officials have been stolen. One incident involved the theft of a Mercedes-Benz belonging to the European Community's acting delegate in Kampala. Four men in a Peugeot armed with automatic rifles chased the EC delegate's car through Kampala.
With the diplomat driving, and accompanied by a bodyguard, the thieves forced the car to a stop, struck the occupants with their rifles, and forced them to run for their lives. The car was driven off and probably taken over the Zaire border, where a Mercedes can fetch $50,000.
The United Nations Development Program has lost two cars to thieves in the past fortnight.
Meanwhile the Army has been taken off roadblocks, and Vice-President Muwanga has made officers responsible for crimes committed by their men. Another move is to establish a strong force of trusted officers to enforce discipline in the Army.
Sources say one problem Obote faces is that many soldiers support one or other of the opposition parties.
After some weeks of quiet, the rebel groups - notably the military wing of Yoweri Museveni's banned Uganda Freedom Movement -are back in action against the government. They are said to control much of the area to the northwest of Kampala and have operated within six miles of the capital. Tracks between villages have been mined to deter military patrols.
The government suspects that this radical group has been receiving cash, and probably arms, from Libya.
Kampala reports say that Obote's campaign against the rebels may already have started, with search-and-destroy raids on villages by the Army. At Bukalammuli, 50 miles from the capital, many villagers took refuge recently in a Catholic mission in fear of the Army.
This area is mainly populated by the Baganda tribe, which is bitterly opposed to Obote. It is believed militant groups have been sheltered there.
Kampala sources also say that a large area of the West Nile region is under the control of guerrilla groups and that there have been a number of clashes with the Army. The Army has recently strengthened its position in this area and an offensive may be planned for the dry season to come. One problem is that operations may disrupt the harvest, leading to another famine.
But the big problem facing Obote and Muwanga is still the lack of discipline among troops. Road blocks set up to improve security sometimes have been used to rob drivers of cars and buses. Looting is common in the countryside. The Army is suspected of engaging in these activities. Police are sometimes used to round up drunken soldiers and pitched battles often result.
What is certain is that Obote's security problems are reflected in the bigger problem of getting foreign aid, but the coffee crop this year has been good and is going out normally through Kenya to the port of Mombasa. A conference of Uganda aid donors is to be held early next year.