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Rebels attack government troops

KAMPALA, Uganda -- NationalResistance Army rebels pounded government troops with an 'overwhelming' artillery barrage Thursday, dimming hopes peace talks would end 23 years of bloodshed in the country.

State-run Radio Uganda said NRA guerrillas shelled army positions in the western towns of Masaka and Mbarara Wednesday night in a deliberate attempt to sabotage the stalled peace talks between the government and the rebels being held in neighboring Nairobi.

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'The NRA has delivered overwhelming artillery gunfire over and upon the government's 32nd battalion in Masaka and Mbarara and other government troops positions. Up to now it is difficult to establish how many casualties Uganda has incurred following those heavy bombardments,' the radio said.

The 2,000 men of the 32nd battalion have been under seige in their barracks since late August when the NRA captured Masaka and Mbarara. At least one effort by the trapped soldiers to break out of the barracks has been repulsed by the rebels.

A statement issued by the Uganda's military ruler Gen. Tito Okello and broadcast on the radio also accused the NRA of planning the assassinations and executions of senior government officials, including himself.

Okello said the documents captured from the NRA said guerrilla commanders were told 'to ensure that all Fascist murderer elements in the military junta are isolated and eliminated for the crimes they have committed against the people'.

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He said a hit list captured from the NRA showed himself, Chief of the Defense Forces Bazillio Okello and Defense Minister Wilson Toko as priority targets.

'Let it be known that Museveni (NRA leader Yoweri Museveni) and the NRA shall be held totally responsible for the consequences that may result from the hostile activites of the NRA,' Okello said.

Okello said the NRA was deliberately stalling on the peace talks so they could consolidate their military strength and organize an offensive against the capital, Kampala.

The NRA has an estimated 10,000 armed men while the government army has an estimated 15,000 fighters.

Since Okello came to power in a July 27 coup that toppled civilian President Milton Obote, the NRA has taken control of the western third of the country and has threatened to move on Kampala if the peace talks in Nairobi fail.

The talks, which began Aug 26., have repeatedly broke down and at least three major battles between the two groups have taken place inside Uganda.

Uganda has been in a virtual state of civil war since receiving independence from Britain in 1962.

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