KAMPALA, Apr 18 (Reuters) Uganda's army today said it was starting to send people home from camps in the north where they have sheltered from 20 years of war between troops and the cult-like Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.
The move affects some settlements of more than a quarter of a million people in the Lango and Teso regions, which have been relatively peaceful for months.
But it will not involve those camps in the more violent Acholi region, which the UN has called the world's worst forgotten humanitarian disaster.
Clashes with the LRA have uprooted some 1.6 million people, most of them in the last three years. But with the group's leaders now hiding in neighbouring Congo and southern Sudan, the government says some of the camps can be emptied.
''There are no problems any more in Lango and Teso, so from today people there are being assisted ... with iron sheets, seeds and food supplies for six months,'' Ugandan army spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda said.
He could not immediately say how many would benefit in those two regions, or within what timeframe.
President Yoweri Museveni had ordered last year that Lango and Teso camp residents be resettled in their old villages by December 2005. He has long said the LRA is on the verge of defeat.
But disbanding more than 200 camps in the north will be fraught with difficulties.
Residents are wary of the government's security promises, and rights groups have said in the past that Ugandan soldiers often abuse camp residents they are meant to protect.
Returning villagers also face the prospect of going back to homes with almost no infrastructure, just bitter land disputes.
Aid workers say the north, particularly Acholi, remains dangerous, but the LRA has shifted most of its operations its long-term refuge in lawless southern Sudan.
Striking from bases there and the Democratic Republic of Congo since late last year, it has terrorised isolated Sudanese communities and attacked aid workers.
In October the International Criminal Court in The Hague unsealed arrest warrants for the LRA's self-proclaimed prophet leader, Joseph Kony, and his top deputies.
LRA rebels have abducted some 25,000 children during the conflict, forcing them to become fighters, porters and ''wives''.
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