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Alleged Abuse in Disarmament in Uganda Known by UNDP, But Dollar Figures Still Not Given: What Did UN Know and When?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS, June 23 -- While UN Secretary General Kofi Annan states that the details of programs and funding through UN agencies is publicly available, the UN Development Programme on Friday said it was still unable or unwilling to specify how much money has been spent on disarmament programs in northeastern Uganda, a region in which UNDP now acknowledges it is aware of allegations of abusive involuntary disarmament by the Ugandan military.

   In a media availability late morning on Friday, Inner City Press asked the Secretary General how the press and public can have prompt access to information about funding activities of UN agencies, particularly where as in Uganda allegations of abuse exist and are known to the agency; the question referred back to a previous question about a UN Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Annan stated that "this kind of information is generally open... But I wish you pursue it, they should be able to give it to you."

   An hour later in a contentious on-the-record interview, UNDP spokesman William Orme did not provide any financial information, but stated that UNDP "is aware of the allegations of abuse by the Ugandan military... including the ones you [Inner City Press reports] have raised" and that UNDP "has made their concerns known to Ugandan officials."

   Asked directly when and to whom in Uganda UNDP's concerns have been expressed, and how and when UNDP became aware of the allegations, UNDP's Mr. Orme stated, "that's all I'm prepared to say."

Uganda per UNHCR

   Inner City Press asked Mr. Orme is there are any written agreements between UNDP and the government of Uganda. Mr. Orme recited that all UNDP project are carried out with the knowledge and consent of the host governments. Asked if this knowledge and consent is oral or in writing, Mr. Orme answered, "In writing." Asked the documents are available, Mr. Orme replied, "What documents?"

  "The ones reflecting knowledge and consent."

   Mr. Orme did not provide access to any documents. On UNDP's web site, the most recent  "country cooperation framework for Uganda" is from December 2000, more than five years old, and expired. On Friday, Mr. Orme said that there may be no documents about UNDP's programs in Eastern Uganda. Of these programs, he stated that they are development programs, with some voluntary disarmament included. Inner City Press asked if these voluntary disarmament programs have taken place in the same areas as the allegedly abusive involuntary disarmament operations by the Ugandan People's Defense Force in conjunction with Local Defense Units (LDUs) -- for example, in Inner City Press' June 21 report, provided to UNDP for comment on June 19, in three districts bordering Kenya: Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripirit.

   Four days ago, Inner City Press asked UNDP and some others in the UN system to comment on:

In Kotido district on May 19, 2006, in Jimos village, the UPDF and LDUs encircled a village and attacked them to force them to turn over their weapons. 4 people were killed by the UPDF/LDUs including a 15 year old girl. Over 100 homes were burnt and the protective fence shelters used to protect the collective living space from enemy armed raiders were burnt. Many inhabitants, including many women, were taken and detained in the UPDF barracks in Kotido.

In Moroto district, at Loputiput and Longoleki village, in Nadunget sub county, on May 19, 2006, the army encircled the village at 4 a.m.. People were ordered out of their huts and beaten while the army searched the village. Even though it appears the army found no weapons or ammunition, ten men from the village were taken and detained at the Moroto army barracks.
Also in Moroto District, newly disarmed villages began being attacked on June 3 and there are at least a dozen attacks have occurred. For example, on June 1, 2006, a prominent Karamajong peace leader who people had worked with to design a voluntary disarmament program saw what was occurring in forced disarmament and so to save his village brought in a dozen guns that were in his village. He then asked the UPDF / LDUs for protection against the armed raiders. He was told they would not protect the village. On June 3 his village was attacked by armed raiders and he and some of his sons were killed and over 118 head of cattle were stolen.

On May 26, 2006, in Loperot parish attacks killed an old woman, 4 women were raped, many people were beaten. One boy who was shot in the leg and beaten was then forced to drink three liters of local liquor. He was later admitted in Matani Hospital in Moroto district.

   Inner City Press' June 19 written questions to Mr. Orme also stated that "this is an inquiry about a UNDP program in Uganda -- assistance with the disarmament of the Karamajong people. What is UNDP's role in this program? What oversight is UNDP giving to how the program is going? Have problems been seen with forcible disarmament, abuses of women and children and post-disarmament looting of Karamajong cattle and villages? Any information you can provide on UNDP's awareness of and involvement in these issues will be appreciated." Inner City Press named a deadline of 5 p.m. eastern June 20.

   On June 20, Mr. Orme had his staffer Cassandra Waldon telephone Inner City Press; near the end of the conversation she stated that everything she said was "on background" and "you can't use it." Inner City Press then asked, among other things, for financial information and for an on-the-record response as quickly as possible. Even so, Inner City Press waited an additional day before publishing its initial report.Two days later no on-the-record response had been given, and no financial information, and so the question was raised in rushed form to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

   Inner City Press asked about "UNDP-funded disarmament in Uganda of pastoralist tribes that use the guns really to defend their herds. I guess what I want to ask is, although we are still pursuing it, there seem to be abuses in the program; we have asked how much funding UNDP provides for the disarmament of pastoralist tribes. I will say that for four days we have been unable to get even a number about how much is funded. So I guess, this idea of freedom of information act, which I once asked you about beforeÖis it your sense that a UNDP agency should be able to, in four days, disclose how much it is funding a program?"

   The Secretary General responded: "I am not sure I would tie that to a freedom of information act. I am not sure whom at UNDP you asked, but this kind of information is generally open; the UN peacekeeping budgets are open, and the amounts of money we spend on disarmament efforts are public information, for the public. So I really donít know whom you asked in UNDP, and why you havenít got it. And really, donít expect me to give you an answer. But I wish you pursue it. They should be able to give it to you."

   One observer noted that while the Department of Peacekeeping, which Mr. Annan previously headed, may quickly provide financial information, UNDP for now operates differently, including with a lesser degree of responsiveness to questions from the press and even from the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General.

  Minutes later at the noon briefing, the OSSG's Marie Okabe was asked what the procedure for getting such information is, without having to ask the Secretary General. Ms. Okabe replied that the requested information was now upstairs.

  But upstairs just after the noon briefing, Inner City Press was directed to again call UNDP spokesman William Orme. Mr. Orme did not however on Friday provide a single piece of financial information, despite Inner City Press' June 20 question about how much money has been spending on UNDP disarmament programs in northeastern Uganda. Mr. Orme stated that he now had to seek the information in Uganda. Inner City Press asked how it is possible that UNDP Headquarters in New York does not have or will not disclose such a figure. No explanation was not provided; Mr. Orme has stated that the information will be provided on Monday. We will await it, in writing. In the interim, if answers cannot be had inside UN Headquarters, they will be sought elsewhere: watch this site.

* * *

  Also at the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked for response to a call by Uganda's envoy in Juba for the UN military option to arrest Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and three others in the Lords Resistance Army. At press time, the spokesman's office said:

"In response to your question from today's Noon Briefing: As requested by the Security Council (SC) in Resolution 1663, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) continues to go everything within its mandate and capabilities against the LRA, however our forces are extremely limited by both. It must be stressed that the Governments of the region (Sudan, Southern Sudan, Uganda, DRC) have significant more capacity to act against the LRA than UNMIS does. (UNMIS has only 700 guard troops in all of Equatoria - an area the size of Austria - while reports have put combined SAF-SPLA-UPDF at 50,000, although SAF is withdrawing and UPDF presence may fluctuate). UNMIS is also configurated towards implementing a classic Chapter 6
monitoring and verification mission and, as such, does not possess any offensive assets. Areas of focus to assist against LRA now that UNMIS deployment is reaching completion are more pro-active patrolling in known LRA areas, and assistance facilitating the coordination of information between thre three military forces on the ground - SAF, SPLA and UPDF. To do more would require a stronger mandate and much more robust resources."

  It's a response, and it was fast. But presumably the call for UN military action was directed at the 17,000 UN troops in the DRC with MONUC. To be continued.

Heard in the hall: an outgoing ambassador told Inner City Press that the fix is in on the UN budget crisis. "There is no more crisis," he said, "the United States caved in." He predicted that on Wednesday the cap will be lifted, along with happy talk about reforms that have been achieved. Asked if Japan had left the U.S. alone with its threats, the diplomat said, "Japan chases behind the U.S. and then doesn't back them up. But don't quote me by name!" Okay...

On a lighter note, on Thursday evening photos of Angkor Wat were unveiled in the UN's visitors' lobby, where they will remain on display until August 18. The opening ceremony was graced by Cambodian dancers as well as a mobbed table loaded with sushi. A heart-felt celebration of global culture.

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