The Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) has taken over security of Lira town in northern Uganda after police got overwhelmed by rowdy youth involved in xenophobic attacks against Asian traders.
Yesterday, Saturday business in Lira town came to a standstill as security agencies engaged in day-long running battles with the rowdy youths. Tensions have been temper-high since the alleged killing of an 11-year-old pupil, Dickens Okello of Alito primary school in Kole district.
Okello was allegedly killed by two Asian nationals last week who were driving in a tinted double cabin truck. Okello was reportedly returning from school with his brother, Denis Ogwang, 13, when the two suspects; Vayas Fravey and Madmay Gaga attempted to lure them into their vehicle with laced biscuits and Shs 2,000 notes.
When the minors took off, Okello was allegedly grabbed by Vayas and Gaga and strangled to death. Vayas and Gaga are cotton traders with Meenay Cotton Ltd at Odokomit ginery in Lira town. A police post-mortem report conducted by police pathologist in Lira district, Dr Francis Olwa indicated that Okello could have died as a result of a possible heart attack caused by shock. The family rejected the report.
After the burial of Okello, the youth in Lira mounted an attack and descended on Asian-owned businesses and traders in retaliation for the death of Okello.
It is reported that some youths armed with stones and sticks started patrolling Imat Miria road and Ohuru Bar along Lira-Soroti road, in search of Indian owned shops, soon after Okello's burial at Dok-Gudu Cell, which was equally dominated by clashes between security and mourners.
The youths attempted to break into Family supermarket, one of the outlets owned by Indian traders in Lira but they were thwarted by the heavily armed security personnel. Peter Ojok, a trader at Ohuru bar said the youths numbering about 15 stormed the area and started breaking into the supermarket.
They were only stopped by the intervention of security personnel. Ajok said he had closed his business when the chaos broke out. This was the second attempt by the youths to attack Asian traders operating various businesses in Lira town. Last week on Monday, police thwarted attacks on Asian traders by the same group prompting them to close shops for two days.
Unity Radio, one of the stations broadcasting from Lira town was switched off, moments after it was raided by security personnel. They accused the station of inciting violence. The security team reportedly confiscated all gadgets; phones, cameras and computers that were in use at the time of the raid. Sam Atul the station manager confirmed the incident. Six of the station's workers were arrested and taken to Lira Central police station.
Anti-riot police fired countless rounds of live bullets and teargas to disperse the charged youth that had taken over major streets in Lira town. When the attacks persisted, Lira district security authorities called for reinforcement from the Achol-Pii based 5th Division Army Command in Pader district.
The soldiers arrived in Lira town at around 7:30pm and subsequently took over security control both within the town centre and major suburbs. The presence of the army is still visible in Tesobar in Adyel Division and Jinja Camp in Ojwina Division among others.
Gunshots continued to be heard throughout the night in the township including around Cuk Atat market which is dominated by the street children.
Lira DPC Joel Tubanone declined to divulge further information regarding the operation. He however said security agencies are working together to restore sanity within Lira town.
Several businesses owned by the Indians including Letshego financial service, Bidco, supermarkets among others were attacked by the group.
Major streets like Oyam road, Kwania, Olwol and areas in the suburbs of Jinja Camp, Tesobar in Adyel Division have been taken over by the soldiers.