The joint security forces involved in the disarmament exercise in Karamoja have come under the spotlight from some local leaders for allegedly starving the suspects they pick up during the cordon and search operations.
On Monday, the joint security forces launched the cordon and search operations across the nine districts of Karamoja, which led to the arrest of 929 suspects and the recovery of 2 illegal firearms. Some of the suspects spent between two and three days in the cells as they were being screened.
Now, Paul Lokol, the LC V Chairperson of Nabilatuk district says that the suspects were starved in the cells. “On Wednesday, I visited some of the youths who were rounded up from Nabilatuk on Monday and were taken to the army barracks. But I found the youth miserable since they had not eaten for two days,” he said.
Lokol blamed the Human rights defenders for not taking an interest in how the forces are treating people. Peter Dengel, the Kraal leader of the Imerimong clan in Ngoleriet sub-county in Napak district, said that the cordon and search operations will not yield the desired results apart from pushing the rustlers into hiding with their firearms.
“When you use the force in Karamoja you will never achieve what you want but apply peace and dialogue,” he said. Betty Tebakol, the wife of one of the suspects told our reporter that ever since her husband who is living with HIV was arrested, he has missed his medication.
“I have moved to Nakapiripirit brigade pleading with the forces to allow my husband to take drugs but they have refused to allow me to give him the drugs. I don’t know their motive yet he has never owned any gun,” she said.
Peter Lokol, one of the suspects arrested on suspicion of hiding a gun and a resident of Loregae sub-county told our reporter that they stayed for days without eating or drinking anything until Wednesday night when they were served food.
“We never ate any food in the cells until Wednesday when they saved us food. Five people shared one plate of posho and beans,” he said. Mudong Akorio who was arrested but later released after he was screened and found innocent also confessed that life in the cells was so difficult.
“The soldiers who were guarding us do not know that we are just being arrested on suspicion and are not yet criminals. They were so harsh against us,” he said. Last week, the joint security forces recieved UGX.200 m as part of the UGX.39bn approved for the disarmament exercise in Karamoja.
But Major Isac Oware, the UPDF 3rd Division spokesperson dismissed the claims that they are starving suspects in their cells, saying that they are given food and their rights are respected. According to Major Oware, before they started the operations, they budgeted for everyone including feeding the suspects and their treatment.
“Those are all baseless allegations meant to frustrate our work but we shall continue carrying on the operation while respecting the human rights,” he said.