GULU. Land mine survivors in northern Uganda have asked the Government to use the upcoming Africa Conference on Cluster Ammunitions to advance the need for assistance to de-mine the region.
Uganda will host the two-day conference that seeks to address challenges post-conflict communities face such as exposure to explosive left behind. Northern Uganda faces a burden of the kind after the two-decade LRA insurgency.
Stephen Okello, the coordinator Gulu Amuru Landmine Survivors Association, told our reporter that government’s reluctance to remove abandoned explosives in the region continues to expose the public to dangers.
“This is the Government’s obligation and they don’t need to be told. They must take action to make sure people are safe because the people who have gone through landmine accidents are suffering a lot. We don’t want to see more of our people who never held a gun to fight in the war suffer after the war,” Okello said.
Landmines, according to experts, can last for as many as a century either on the surface or underground.
Irene Laker, a 36-year-old amputee in Pece Division in Gulu Municipality, will never forget the morning of August 24, 2005, when she stepped on a landmine outside her house.
“My life has never been the same again even when I move on this artificial limb. I thought I had survived abduction, only to step on landmine right near my home,” said Laker. “I lost everything I had as a businesswoman. I am struggling to live a normal life as a single mother of three.”
Laker is one of the over 800 members of Gulu Amuru Landmine Survivors Association who have to make ends meet on their own since the organisation is broke.
According to Aswa region police spokesperson Patrick Jimmy Okema, there are over 149 unexploded devices discovered in the eight districts of Aswa region that pose a risk to community members.
The unexploded devices include RPG bombs, stick grenades, offensive grenades, launcher bombs, anti-tank launchers, and an unspecified number of landmines.
Six of these were discovered in Lokoko Village in Gulu District, three rocket launchers in Lagajji Villge in Nwoya District, five motor bombs and 10 RPG shells discovered in Abunga Village in Pader District. Others were in Kitgum and Amuru districts.
Pader has the highest number of discovered unexploded devices, standing at 74 as recovery exercise continues.
Okema said most of the cases have been reported by farmers who find unfamiliar objects in their farms.
“We have confirmed reports from the community and the areas have been mapped but we lack the personnel and funds to reach those areas so that we can do away with those unexploded devices,” Okema said, adding that the Aswa region police are making efforts to lobby for the needed funds, including by asking Parliament to raise awareness of the issue.
The Chairwoman of Uganda Landmine Survivors Association, Margaret Arach Orech, who is also a member of the international campaign to ban landmines under the Cluster Munition Coalition, said Uganda is a signatory to the Mine Ban treaty, which means it can ask for assistance from the international community in a situation where the government fails to have an explosives-clean environment after war.
“If they are talking about resources, by signing that Mine Ban treaty, Article 6 talks of intergovernmental obligation toward the survivors. There is also an article that talks about international cooperation. Where a state finds that it is unable to deal with a situation at hand, it can ask for international assistance. So it is upto the government to say ‘we are faced with this situation, we are unable to handle it’ and the donor community comes in,” Arach said.
In 2012, Uganda declared that it had cleared the country of unexploded explosive devices, leading to the disbanding of the Uganda Mine Action Centre that employed de-miners and acted as a reporting centre for such explosives left behind after war. Since then, there has been no clear channel of reporting apart from local leaders and the police who do not have the experts readily available to handle the situation.
Arach believes that if the Government asked for assistance during the summit, the dangerous devices in Aswa region could be removed with support from donor communities.
In 2005, Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA) was established as the National umbrella organisation for landmine survivors in the country.
ULSA provided opportunities for peer support and survivor-led advocacy, though its activities were limited due to dependence on scarce external funding.
Today, the guns in Northern Uganda are silent but there are more than 2,500 people left without limbs as a result of landmines.
Meanwhile, Uganda is yet to have a reparation policy on compensation of the LRA war survivors of Northern Uganda.