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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 09:18 GMT
Analysis: Uganda's failure to defeat rebels
By Andrew Harding
BBC, Northern Uganda

President Yoweri Museveni sits outside his tent, examining a map of northern Uganda.

All around him, well-armed soldiers are busy setting up camp - digging trenches, organising sentries, and preparing for what Museveni insists is the final showdown against the Lord's Resistance Army.

President Museveni visits survivors of the Lira attack
Many huts were torched in the recent attack in Lira
"We are making good progress," insists Mr Museveni, dressed in brand new army fatigues.

Three senior LRA commanders have been killed in the past three months.

"At this rate we will end this in another two or three months," he says.

Asked why it has taken some 17 years of misery and massacres to reach this supposedly decisive moment, Uganda's leader has a one-word answer.

"Sudan." And he has a point.

Self-styled prophet

For years the LRA has been able to operate from bases inside the neighbouring country.

It has received support and munitions there.

The situation nearly provoked a "full scale war" between the two countries, according to Mr Museveni.

But why would Sudan's Islamic government support the LRA's leader, Joseph Kony - a crazed, self-styled prophet specialising in massacres and abductions?

The theory goes like this: Sudan's Arab north has been fighting its own civil war against African rebels in the south of the country.

The government did not want Uganda to support the rebels - so it used the LRA as a sort of buffer force, to destabilise the situation along the border.

But recently things have started to change.

First Sudan agreed to let Ugandan troops into its territory to fight the LRA, and now the Sudanese civil war appears to be on the brink of a final peace deal.

No wonder President Museveni argues that the LRA's days are numbered.

If only it were that simple....

'Ghost soldiers'

For a start, the LRA remains a difficult enemy. It has no obvious territorial or political goals.

Its forces work in small numbers, melting into the countryside.

Despite setbacks, it still seems well-organised and capable of moving its operations to new areas.

The LRA has so successfully terrorised the population that it only needs to carry out the occasional massacre to keep hundreds of thousands of civilians on the run.

Then there is Uganda's army.

Local defence force members clash with civilians
Tribal tension is rising in the north as a result of the rebel attacks
It appears to have had some recent success in tracking and killing LRA fighters and commanders, but the Ugandan military has been seriously hamstrung by corruption and mismanagement.

President Museveni acknowledges some corruption - with senior officials now under investigation for allegedly pocketing the wages of thousands of non-existent "ghost soldiers".

But he denies it has affected the army's performance.

His critics are less confident.

They claim the corruption has, at the very least, seriously undermined morale among the troops, and point to the army's recent failure to protect civilians from a massacre 10 days ago just north of the town of Lira - a failure blamed on a series of basic tactical errors by the military.

Which is why, last week, thousands of civilians marched through Lira to show their anger with the Ugandan military.

The march quickly turned violent, largely because of the tribal tension so embedded in Ugandan society.

'Brusque style'

Many in Lira believe President Museveni has been slow to come to their rescue because they come from a different tribe and have tended to support opposition politicians.

They feel the north is being punished by a ruling movement which emerged from other parts of the country.

Mr Museveni denies this, but his brusque style works against him.

He is a soldier at heart - a man more comfortable talking about killing rebels than sympathising with latest victims of the LRA.

Which brings us to the final excuse which Mr Museveni gives for his army's slow progress against the LRA - foreign donors.

"I have another word for them..." he says, implying that it is something short and rude. Britain, France, the United States and others finance nearly half of Uganda's $2bn annual budget.

But they have imposed strict limits on the amount the government can spend on defence (approximately 2% of GDP).

Mr Museveni angrily complains that the cap is undermining his ability to fight the LRA.

The donors are sceptical - indeed some believe the president needs an ongoing military campaign to hide continuing corruption in arms procurement.

The BBC's Andrew Harding
"The bad memories are not going away"

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