Uganda: October 13, 2002

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The Ugandan Army launched air raids in Gulu at 18: 00 on 6 October, immediately after the civilian population was evacuated from most parts of the rebel-infested region. Two MI-24 helicopter gunships raided Ato hills, killing seven rebels and wounding 11 others. Twelve captives were also rescued during the air raids . Since the army started using helicopter gunships on 2 September, they have killed 31 LRA rebels and rescued 182 prisoners. The Ugandan army apparently uses the gunships as a distraction, while it moves ground troops in to close with the LRA (in August, some Ugandan troops were killed by errant shells from a gunship).

The increased gunship activity is just another indicator of a looming government offensive. Ugandan news sources reported truckloads of singing soldiers roaring into Lira District on the 6th and 7th. The UPDF's 4th Division spokesman said that this was merely normal troop movements to beef up security in the North. 

However, three of Uganda's Hinds are currently unusable. On 7 October, the Ugandan government also shipped two Mi-24 helicopters back to Belarus for overhaul. Their controversial purchase in 1997 reportedly caused government a direct loss of $6.5 million. Other sources indicate that there is lingering disagreement over who should foot the cost of the overhaul. Consolidated Sales Corporation (CSC) had acted as the middleman in the deal and taken a huge cut.

A third Mi-24, acquired on the open market from a Middle Easterner named Dr. and through Culworth Investment Corporation, developed serious mechanical problems in Moroto district a few months ago and is now grounded at Entebbe airbase. 

The Ugandan government's public appearance took another downturn after a local paper reported that a gunship flown by 'expatriates' was lost on the 8th, possibly shot down by the LRA. The other theory was that it ran out of fuel, which meant that it may not have burned upon impact. 

The army quickly denied this report and called a press conference on the 10th at Gulu barracks, showing journalists their two helicopter gunships. They said another small surveillance helicopter had flown to Ngom-Oromo, Kitgum. At 09:30 on the 12th, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) agents arrested journalist Frank Nyakairu in Gulu and was eventually charged under Penal Code section 50 (alarming the public). Apparently, the Ugandan command feels that even the rumor of a lost gunship can have serious effects on troop moral. - Adam Geibel


 

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