Uganda to Start Closing Northern War Camps

KAMPALA - The Ugandan government was to begin closing camps on Tuesday for thousands uprooted by two decades of war as security returns to the north of the country.

Leaders of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels who once terrorised the region are now based far away in northeast Congo, and their representatives have been engaged in peace talks with Uganda's government in Juba, south Sudan, for more than a year.

As a result, many of the displaced are now leaving the sprawling camps -- which once housed as many as 1.7 million people in squalid conditions -- and returning to their villages.

"This is the beginning of real resumption of life in northern Uganda because there is relative security now and this trend will only get better," Ruth Nankabirwa, Uganda's minister of state for defence, told Reuters.

She said the government and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR planned a ceremony at two camps in Lira district on Tuesday where huts would be bulldozed and pit toilets filled.

Lira is in the Lango Region bordering Acholiland, which was the epicentre of the conflict and is made up of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts.

Lira also suffered horrific violence during the war, including the massacre of more than 200 people in an attack by LRA fighters on Barlonyo camp in February 2004.

UNHCR said in a statement the closure of 40 camps by mid-next year was due to better security and the peace talks.

It said more than 90 percent of some 466,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Lango in 2005 had now returned home.

"However, the situation is different in the Acholi region where, out of some 1.1 million IDPs in 2005, more than 63 percent remain in the camps," UNHCR said.

Another obstacle to resettlement in the north has been floods hitting wide swathes of Lira and neighbouring Teso.

"The floods are but a temporary setback," Nankabirwa said. "The soils are soggy and the people cannot build huts ... that is stopping many of them from returning to their homes."