Mounting frustration and anger in Uganda. Government leaders, rebels, can't get together
John Serwadda drives a battered, 15-year-old taxi around the streets of Uganda's capital, Kampala. The cab is well ventilated with unplanned gaps in the bodywork. He apologizes to passengers for the absence of windows, saying that they were shot out by men in military uniform.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Serwadda quietly explains that, after dusk, the men abducted him and his car at a roadblock in the city. They said they were members of the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (Fedemu), a former dissident group that has joined forces with the military regime that overthrew Milton Obote July 27.
Incidents such as these are an everyday occurence for Ugandans, who are voicing mounting anger and frustration. The recent coup, they say, has done nothing to eradicate the country's reputation for terror and lawlessness.
The men who vandalized Serwadda's taxi were drunk, he says. They drove him to a clearing in the forest took off his shoes and told him to run for his life. He was lucky. He escaped with only a bullet graze on his arm.
Several days later his taxi was returned to him by members of the Uganda Freedom Movement, another guerrilla movement that has agreed to cooperate with Uganda's ruling military council. Both guerrilla groups had been waging desultory bush campaigns against Dr. Obote's regime.
On Oct. 9 Uganda marked its 23rd year of independence, but there was little cause for celebration. The fledgling government of former Army chief Gen. Tito Okello, has run into trouble in its bid to reconcile the political, religious, and tribal factions that have destabilized this East African state for the past 15 years.
Fighting is escalating between the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) and the largest rebel force, the National Resistance Army (NRA), one of five rebel groups in the country. Hostilities broke out in mid-September, shortly after the two sides had agreed to peace talks in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
The negotiations may have taken a step forward with the government's agreement yesterday to give the NRA equal representation on the military council -- a key NRA demand.
The talks were designed to bring the NRA into the new regime as a step toward implementing Uganda's badly needed economic reconstruction.
But, observers here say, the intransigence of NRA leader, Yoweri Museveni, has doomed the ongoing discussions to stalemate. The third round ended inconclusively last month and the fourth round, originaly scheduled for mid-October, has yet to begin. Museveni has refused to go along with the government's proposal to demobilize both his own and the government's military forces and recruit a fresh Army.
Instead he has stepped up his campaign in the field and is gradually closing in on Kampala in a pincer advance from his strongholds in the northwest and west. The NRA captured Uganda's third largest town of Masaka, 80 miles from the capital, Sept. 26, and are now holding down 3,000 UNLA troops at a swampy river-crossing 30 miles from Masaka.
Thus the 12-man military council faces the prospect of a protracted, low-key civil war as it struggles to maintain its credibility as reports of Army atrocities flood in from around the countryside.