KAMPALA, Uganda — Government troops retreating before a fierce rebel attack near Kampala poured into the streets of the capital Wednesday, robbing and harassing civilians who fled by the hundreds, witnesses said.
Gunfire was heard all day. By afternoon, stores and offices in downtown Kampala were closed and only unruly soldiers roamed the streets. At times, the shooting was believed to be connected to rampages rather than a result of clashes between the army and the Uganda National Resistance Army guerrillas.
Witnesses said soldiers robbed and harassed pedestrians in downtown Kampala and prevented residents from returning to their homes in the southwestern suburbs.
A member of the ruling military council, Lt. Col. Eric Oduor, issued an appeal for calm over state-run Radio Uganda and ordered all soldiers to return to their barracks.
Skirmishes on the outskirts of Kampala began to escalate over the last week despite a peace accord signed Dec. 17 to end a five-year conflict.
A source on the military council, who requested anonymity, said Wednesday's unauthorized influx of soldiers into Kampala came after commanders decided to withdraw artillery units from a position 15 miles to the southwest, where army troops had been confronted by the guerrillas.
Officials in neighboring Kenya, which helped the government of Uganda and the rebels negotiate the accord, called for an emergency meeting in Nairobi on Friday.
Kenya's Foreign Minister Elijah Mwangale said that President Daniel Arap Moi had invited Gen. Tito Okello, Uganda's head of state, Tanzania's President Ali Hassan Mwinyi and rebel leader Yoweri Museveni to the talks. Moi was chairman of the negotiations which resulted in the peace accord, and Tanzania has offered to provide observers to monitor a cease-fire called for in the peace accord.