Nairobi — Heavy fighting that erupted in Uganda late last week is forcing thousands in the capital city of Kampala to flee their homes and seek safety in churches. The struggle between guerrilla forces of the National Resistance Army and government troops shatters a cease-fire agreement signed between the two in Nairobi on Dec. 17 and plunges Uganda a step closer to civil war.
The outburst of renewed violence underscores the country's inability to settle deep-seated differences between the military government and the powerful NRA, which have been aggravated by both rebel and government military resistance to the accord. Under the terms of the treaty, the NRA was to have formed a coalition government with the seven-month-old military administration that took control in July of last year, but this provision of the accord has not been fulfilled.
Since the takeover by Lt. Gen. Tito Okello in a military coup, the NRA has been the only guerrilla army unwilling to accept invitations to join the ruling military council of the new government.
Under its leader Yoweri Museveni, the NRA has continued to expand the amount of territory it controls in the fertile western and southwestern areas of Uganda. Despite ongoing talks between Mr. Museveni and the government to resolve the conflict, the NRA has continued to wage a military campaign against the government.
The signed agreement was expected to mark an end to the state-inspired terror that has been the hallmark of Uganda's rulers since Idi Amin siezed power in 1971. It centerd around the formation of a new, 8,480-man army composed of government and NRA troops, plans for free and fair general elections under a popular constitution, and plans for a national commission of inquiry into all human rights violations since Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962.
Prerequisite to this, however, is a task analysts say will be formidable: disarming some 50,000 men on both sides who are accustomed to living by the law of the gun.
Implementation of the accord stalled when Museveni refused to fulfill part of the accord requiring that he assume his seat as vice-chairman of the ruling military council, a position he had demanded since the peace talks began last August. According to diplomats in the country, the NRA leader also refused to nominate members for the military council -- a further requirement of the accord. His refusals hindered the council's formation and left Uganda's military ruler, Okello singly in charge.
Museveni has accused the country's armed forces commander, Lt. Gen. Basilio Olara Okello, (no relation to Tito Okello) of violating the accord's terms by importing arms and moving troops. Independent and NRA reports say that, since the signing of the pact, Commander Okello has taken steps to entrench his position by building up strongholds in the north with new arms and manpower. He has also closed ranks with former followers of Idi Amin. These manuevers are viewed by analysts as preparation for military confrontation.
Furthermore, according to reports, over 300 Ugandan civilians have died in the past month at the hands of government soldiers.
Museveni, a man many Ugandans and analysts believe is the only political figure capable of instilling security in the country, has pledged to avenge the army's atrocities by punishing soldiers who have committed criminal acts and barring their enlistment into the new army. If the accord ever moves ahead and Museveni has his way, the National Liberation Army's commander, Gen. Basilio Olara Okello, a seasoned soldier who led the July 1985 coup, is likely to be included in the purge.