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Uganda: rebels claim their takeover is a bid to stop human rights violations

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The reported violent ouster of Uganda's military government over the weekend seems to have dashed the East African country's latest effort to bury the legacy of Idi Amin. Instead, the assault on the capital, Kampala, by rebel troops of the National Resistance Army buried a Kenya-mediated truce between the NRA and the military council which has run Uganda since a coup last summer.

With communications from Uganda interrupted and the airport closed, it remained unclear at time of writing Sunday just how extensive the rebel gains were.

Nor was it immediately evident whether loyalist forces were able or inclined to launch a counterattack.

But British Broadcasting Corporation reports, citing messages from foreign embassies in Kampala, suggested that the NRA, headed by veteran opposition figure Yoweri Museveni, had defeated progovernment troops and in effect wrested power from the military regime.

An NRA spokesman in London said late Saturday that his group had mounted the offensive in a bid to stop large-scale ``human rights violations'' by government forces. Western analysts familiar with the situation in Uganda said the charges were credible. But they said that, by the yardstick of human rights, all of the country's rival political forces -- including the NRA -- had poor records.

The fight for Kampala was the latest chapter in a tale of tribal and social conflict -- and violence -- that has plagued Uganda since the 1970s. It was then that an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Milton Obote was toppled by his Army chief of staff, Idi Amin.

General Amin's rule of terror was ended, after an invasion by neighboring Tanzania, at the start of 1979.

But a succession of regimes since then -- including a return appearance by Mr. Obote -- has failed to restore law and order, much less stability or democracy, to Uganda.

When Obote's Army toppled him last year, it faced early pressure from the NRA, which had been waging a guerrilla war of its own against the Obote government for the previous four years.

Complicating the power equation since last summer's coup was the fact that the NRA draws its strength from Bantu tribes in southern and western Uganda, while the Army's traditional base is among the Nilotic people in the north of the country.

The NRA's political hand was strengthened shortly after the coup when the military chief, President Tito Okello, allowed the return to Kampala of troops once loyal to Amin.

The aim was presumably to strengthen government forces against the NRA, but it instead strengthened NRA backing in Uganda and angered Uganda's African neighbors.

Still, neighboring Kenya did oversee negotiations between the Ugandan government and the NRA in recent months. The talks culminated late last year in a cease-f{et


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