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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 21:37 GMT 22:37 UK
Tracking down Uganda's rebels
Tank in northern Uganda supply base for Operation Iron Fist
The Ugandan army prepares to cross into Sudan
The BBC's Will Ross travels into southern Sudan with the Ugandan army which is trying to defeat the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). This offensive, known as Operation Iron Fist, has been launched in co-operation with the Sudanese Government which, until recently, backed the LRA.

We travelled in armoured vehicles known as "Mambas" and "Buffalos".

Sitting on the roofs were several Ugandan soldiers with machine guns.

Our first destination was to be Palataka, 40 kilometres (64 miles) inside Sudan.

An initial promise to take us to the camps the Ugandan authorities say they have captured from the rebels had been abandoned.

The Ugandan army told us the camps had now been handed over to the Sudanese authorities who had not granted permission for a visit.

The area we drove through in southern Sudan appeared almost deserted.

The only other people on the road were traders transporting boxes of food and drink from Uganda on their bicycles.

Amid the dense grassland there was just the occasional cluster of thatched mud huts.

These were settlements of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, SPLA.


The rebel force has been fighting the Khartoum government since 1983 in pursuit of autonomy for animist and Christian southern Sudan from the Islamic north.

The road through this SPLA area had been turned into a quagmire after several weeks of rain.

Young Ugandan soldiers
These soldiers take part in Operation Iron Fist
The 40km journey to Palataka took three-and-a-half hours. Apparently we were lucky - the previous day it had taken 12.

In 1994 Joseph Kony set up an LRA camp at Palataka but the following year the Ugandan army pushed him further north.

The SPLA forces then moved in and now share the base with the Ugandan troops.

The fact that the Sudanese Government accepts this arrangement represents a giant shift in attitude and a certain amount of trust.

Brigadier Aronda, commander of Operation Iron Fist at Palataka
"We will get Kony" - Brigadier Aronda
For years Uganda supported the SPLA and, in retaliation, the Sudanese Government backed the LRA and other rebel groups opposed to Uganda.

But a 1999 peace accord led to an agreement by both countries to end all rebel support.

Looking east from Palataka a series of mountain ranges stretch towards the Kenyan border.

According to the Ugandan army, Joseph Kony and his LRA rebels have fled to those mountains and are on the run.

They are said to be in an area known as the Acholi Hills, approximately 40km from Palataka.

'Hunter hunted'

Addressing the press at Palataka, Brigadier Nyakairima Aronda, the overall commander of Operation Iron Fist, was in no doubt that despite the difficult terrain, the LRA of Joseph Kony would be defeated.

Ugandan troops in northern Uganda supply base for Operation Iron Fist.
The Ugandan army uses its most sophisticated hardware in Sudan
"The hunter is being hunted. Certainly we will get Kony. If he doesn't surrender then he will be killed."

Initially the Ugandan military was optimistic that the operation would not take long.

But having been in southern Sudan for over two months, some are now doubting the UPDF's ability to defeat the rebels.

To those doubters Brigadier Aronda had this to say:

"Defeating terrorism takes quite a while. It took the Angolans almost 30 years to get rid of Savimbi. But ultimately success goes to the forces of order."

"Legitimate target"

According to the military 10,000 Ugandan troops are inside southern Sudan.

It says the LRA number 3,000 and of these it estimates 1,000 are armed.

In addition to defeating the LRA combatants, the Ugandan army says it also aims to free civilians in captivity.

Humanitarian agencies and the relatives of the captives fear the offensive will leave thousands of innocent abductees dead.

Girl in Palataka
The rebels have fled to the hills around Palataka

The Ugandan army says casualties are inevitable during those rescue operations because, from the Ugandan army's point of view, once a child has been abducted and has been given military training, and it is pointing a gun at you, it becomes a legitimate target.

After just an hour in Palataka we were abruptly ordered back into the armoured vehicles.

The trip to the operational headquarters was suddenly out of the question and we were driven back across the border.

Will Ross reporting for BBC Focus on Africa
"No evidence of Ugandan army success"
See also:

22 Mar 02 | Africa
Ugandan rebels attack Sudan
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Sudan lets Uganda go after rebels
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Uganda
14 Apr 02 | Africa
Ugandan army 'corners rebels'
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