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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 July 2007, 01:29 GMT 02:29 UK
Peace talks bring change to Uganda
Oxen ploughing and people walking

By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Kitgum

A year of peace talks has led to some improvement in the lives of northern Ugandans but as no deal has been signed with rebels, some still fear renewed conflict.

After four years in Mucwini camp, 25km north of Kitgum, mother-of-nine, Leorina Lakot went to live at a new, smaller resettlement site in March.

"Here we have our own land, which we didn't have in the main camp. I've planted groundnuts, and I hope soon that I can grow enough food to support myself," she says.

At the height of the conflict in northern Uganda, around 1.7m people were living in camps to avoid attack, mainly from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

Few facilities

Mucwini camp used to be home to more than 25,000 people. Camp Commander Livingstone Kolo says just over 1,000 remain.

Leorina Lakot pounding maize
Leorina Lakot's daughter has stayed in the camp to go to school
Many of those who have stayed behind, have done so because there are few facilities outside the camps.

Leorina Lakot's eldest daughter has stayed in Mucwini to go to school.

It would be too far to walk every day if she moved to her mother's new place.

Seventy-two-year-old Quirino Otto has also stayed behind.

"My children have gone back to the village but I'm too old to cut the grasses to make my house. Later I'll follow them but at the moment no-one can cut the grasses for me."

Closest to danger

But a handful of people are waiting to leave the camps for a different reason.

Mildred Akello, Abia camp

"I do not agree with the peace talks process. They make various statements. Today you hear one thing, tomorrow you hear something else. That makes me worried to go back home," says Bonix Odoch.

He was abducted four times by the LRA, but each time managed to escape after a few days.

"I stay here because I have a fear to go back to my village. Because I was abducted four times, I still have that fear in my mind."

Indeed, aid agencies like Oxfam have noticed a pattern in the movement of people across the region.

'Small, small taxis'

"It's estimated that more than 700,000 have left the camps," says the organisation's Io Schmidt.

"Only in the southern areas do you have a return to original villages. In the north people tend to go to new sites, which resemble camps, but which have the advantage of being closer to their villages and also more spacious, so they can grow crops."

I pushed my children under our bed and then lay, facing down on the floor, looking through the thin gap under our door... a gun was pointed at our door
Mildred Akello, 53
Abia attack victim

The movement of people across northern Uganda depends very much on their perceived proximity to the LRA.

The rebels are said to have gathered in southern Sudan, and those people living closest to the border are least likely to have left the camps.

They know that if the peace talks were to fail, they would be closest to danger again.

Nevertheless, these peace talks have brought about an unprecedented level of security across the north.

Most noticeably, for the rural population who were displaced by the conflict.

But the almost complete end to road ambushes and night time attacks is also being felt in northern Uganda's towns.

"Since the peace talks started, at least four buses have been leaving to go from here to Kampala daily and minibuses have also increased in number," says Charles Ocan, the Chairman of Kitgum Town's Taxi Operators and Drivers Association.

"Before the peace talks we had just open trucks and small, small taxis."

Beer sales

Vehicles used to be prohibited from leaving Kitgum Town before 1000 and after 1600 but greater security on the roads has led to fewer restrictions.

Fruit and vegetable vendor at Kitgum market
Fresh fruits and vegetables are now in abundance

And that's had a knock-on effect on transport-reliant businesses.

In Kitgum market, fresh fruit and vegetables like aubergines, tomatoes and oranges are in abundance.

It is even possible to get fresh fish from Lake Kyoga from time to time, even though it is around 200km (125 miles) away.

Anthony Olanya has also experienced an up-turn in business since the talks began a year ago.

The proprietor of the Step Zero Centre bar and pool hall says on average, he used to sell three crates of beer a night.

Now he sells eight, plus three crates of soft drinks.

"At the weekend, people come here at 1000 in the morning and some don't leave until 0400 the next morning," he says.

"Things have really changed."

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