By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda's military has killed 309 people in an eight-month-old operation against cattle rustling in a northeast region rich in minerals including gold, limestone and potentially oil, the armed forces said.
The Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), the east African country's military, said the deaths resulted from a push to quell violence by cattle rustlers in Karamoja region since last July.
"The UPDF, working with other sister security agencies ... will continue working together to completely pacify Karamoja and end all the criminality in the sub-region," it said in a statement late on Tuesday.
It termed those killed as "warriors", without elaborating.
Inhabited by nomadic pastoralists, Karamoja has long suffered banditry, livestock raids and inter-clan warfare fuelled by cheap, readily available guns.
Rivalry and competition for grazing land and watering points for animals as well as raids for cattle has traditionally fomented violence between different Karamajong communities and against pastoral communities across the border in Kenya.
In a tweet on Wednesday President Yoweri Museveni's son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a commander of UPDF land forces, said they had probably killed more people than the number the UPDF gave in the statement.
"We have killed a lot more cattle thieves since last year. And we shall continue eliminating them until they completely lose the appetite for this industry," Kainerugaba said in a tweet, in which he was responding to a local newspaper report about the 309 deaths.
UPDF said they had also recovered 184 guns in the operation and arrested 1,700 people.
In 2020, Uganda began conducting a mineral survey and mapping exercise in Karamoja, thought to hold substantial reserves of gold, copper, limestone, oil and other minerals.
A recent increase in violence in the region though has posed threats to the exercise, including the killing of a team this month that included a veteran geologist, a student intern, an interpreter and two soldiers.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa, William Maclean)