"There is no government in West Nile; there's just a policy of revenge," said a student in Pakwach, the entry point to the remote province of Uganda were tribal violence has forced much of the battered population to flee.

In the last nine months, the province has become the scene of repeated brutalities, mainly by the Ugandan Army. This has led some inhabitants to wonder whether the government of President Milton Obote is writing off development of this extreme northwestern part of the country bordering Zaire and Sudan.

Such is the fear pervading the area around Arua that not a single civilian was visible for 40 miles during an eerie drive over rutted, dusty roads last week. During a visit last January, hundreds of people could be seen on the same route as they hopefully began moving back to Arua following the October fighting that accompanied the downfall of dictator Idi Amin.

Last week the only people to be seen were troops at roadblocks or in small groups, often waving their rifles at the rare passing vehicle to try to hitch a ride southward away from the war zone.

A Roman Catholic missionary who has lived in Arua for 20 years said sadly that he did not think there was any future for the area.

"It is impossible to live here now," he said.

As long as warfare continues between the Ugandan Army and guerrillas formerly loyal to Amin, it is hard to argue with his assessment.

The guerrillas deny that they want to restore Amin, saying they simply oppose Obote, like other rebel groups in the country. The 1 million population of West Nile, however, is caught between the warring sides.

The scourge of Amin, under whose bloody eight-year rule half a million Ugandans are believed to have been killed covers the province.

West Nile was Amin's home ground and received favored treatment during his rule. But in the two years since his overthrow, the pendulum has swung, and the Nilotic tribes have been the victims of repression at the hands of the Ugandan Army, now dominated by the rival Acholi tribe from east of the Nile.

A priest reportedly told an Army officer recently that there had been enough revenge and that the bloodletting should stop. The office agreed but said, "The soldiers still want more blood."

A massacre of at least 86 persons at the Ombachi Catholic mission near Arua last week was only one of many -- although apparently the worst -- in a cycle of killing that has been on the upswing since a one-week war broke out last October. The main difference was that at Ombachi Westerns witnessed many of the killings and thus the story got out to the world.

About a thousand people, mainly combatants, were killed in the October war. Since then civilians have taken the brunt of the punishment from the Ugandan Army in incidents at Rhino Camp on the Nile in February, Adjomani in March and Ladonga mission on June 1. Few details and no casualty figures are known, except at Ladonga, where 14 persons, including a missionary, were killed.

Violence has become a part of daily life in Arua.

David Vogelsanger, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he had complained to the authorities about killings repeatedly since late May, when the last Tanzanian soldiers, who helped overthrow Amin in 1979, were withdrawn.

About 50 persons were killed in the Arua area in random violence involving the military in a three-week period in May and June.

All but a few Tanzanian soldiers have left Uganda and this has led to fears of a surge of violence and antiObote guerrilla activity throughout the country.

It is impossible to find an optimist in West Nile today.

The Arua district, the most populous part of the province, with a normal population of 400,000, now reduced to 50,000, no longer has electricity, running water or telephone service. All schools and hospitals are closed, and there are no doctors. International development officials have left.

There are no government officials. Even the local military commander left for Kampala before the massacre. The area is ruled by the gun.

Since a mutiny last month among Ugandan battalions at Koboko, Amin's home town, and at Ladonga and Yumbe, the guerrillas have taken control of the area.

Further east an Army garrison in Moyo is practically surrounded and has no vehicle link to the main part of the country in the south since the guerrillas hijacked the only Nile ferry in March. A bridge across the Nile at Pakwach, where the province begins, is the only permanent river crossing for about 1,500 miles.

The guerrillas now control about 40 percent of West Nile, which is about one-third the size of Maryland.

Except for the Amin period, Uganda has had a reputation of being friendly to foreigners. However, foregin residents in West Nile have noted a growing hostility in the tense province.

Some of the hostility is aimed at the Catholic missions. The church is closely identified with the opposition Democratic Party and has long been at odds with Obote, who returned to power last December after controversial elections.

Six missions have been looted in the last nine months. Ombachi is the only one of 15 Arua district Catholic missions still open.

The Verona Fathers missionaries are reluctant to talk publicly about the situation for fear that the government will close their facilities. Ninety of the 260 missionaries in the country are awaiting renewal of their residence permits.

At Ombachi last week the missionaries were barely hiding their rage at the massacre.

The Rev. Angelo Tarantino, the bishop of Arua, refused to make any comment. His reluctance led to a sharp exchange when a priest said to him: "You are the bishop. You are responsible for us. We want to see what you do about this. I buried 47 people."

Violence and flight are not a new phenomenon for the area. Tarantino recalled Sudanese flooding into Arua during civil strife to the north in the 1960s. Simba tribesmen also came across from Zaire during the early days of its independence.

There is a ghostly reminder of those Congolese tribal difficulties at the abandoned frontier post between Uganda and Zaire.

There are many references to "Schramme" in graffiti on the walls of administration buildings at the border.

"Black Jack" Schramme, a Belgian mercenary, played an important role in the tribal strife that marked the early independence of the former Belgian Congo in the 1960s.

Uganda is still living its tribal horror.

"I'm frightened," said Joseph Ezalibo as he lay on the floor at overcrowded Angal Mission Hospital recuperating from leg wounds suffered in the Ombachi massacre. "I don't think Uganda will change soon."