South Sudan, Uganda armies meet to resolve clashes
The South Sudan chief of defense forces, Gen Johnson Juma Okot, led a high-profile South Sudan People's Defence Forces (SSPDF) delegation to meet their Ugandan counterparts in Gulu City over the weekend to resolve the issue of repeated clashes between the two armies.
The meeting was held at the 4th Division Barracks and attended by Lt Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) deputy chief of defence forces, the Land Force commander, Lt Gen Peter Elwelu, and Maj Gen Paul Lokech, a senior military officer, among others.
The meeting was meant to settle the recent series of clashes between the two forces at their common borderlines, cause reconciliation, and derive a way forward to peaceful coexistence between the two countries.
“We have come here to make peace. How do we put our hands together and chart the best way forward for us to live together, take care of our countries and authorities,” Gen Okot said.
He noted that it was unfortunate to have people misunderstand the wealth of historical relations between the two countries by causing conflicts that would, in other words, risk the lives of thousands of South Sudanese refugees that are currently settled in Uganda.
“We have been so privileged that Uganda is protecting our displaced people in northern Uganda. Our children have been able to go to school, pursue their welfare, including their health,” he added.
Repeated Border clashes
On May 31, three SSPDF soldiers were shot dead by the UPDF at Goboro detach following a clash at Maru Village in Yumbe District.
The armed SSPDF soldiers, who were dressed in civilian clothes, had reportedly been harassing locals from May 20 to May 30 when the UPDF got involved. They reportedly looted people’s houses, took animals, and forced people to give them money, as well as threatening to attack them if they did not leave the area.
The UPDF recovered five guns (one machine gun and four AK47 riffles) after the incident and handed the dead over to their counterparts in South Sudan at Afoji Border, according to Leuben Ndifula, the UPDF spokesperson for West Nile.
Ndifula added that the soldiers entered one-and-a-half kilometers into Uganda and their aim was just to disturb people at the border.
Another incident was when at least 36 SSPDF soldiers from Pogee Border post invaded Pangira Parish in Lokung Sub-county and staged a roadblock on unclear grounds, sparking gunfire exchange with the UPDF.
Two SSPDF soldiers were killed and another captured along with three sub-machine guns.
Both UPDF and SSPDF have repeatedly accused each other of failing to respect their territorial boundaries.
SSPDF also reported that several of their soldiers had been killed within Kidepo Valley National Park upon crossing into the Uganda territory.
Gen Okot called for the corporation from Uganda’s intelligence structures to help the SSPDF get rid of security threats from rebels and other fugitives who fled to Uganda but continue to sneak back and terrorize people in South Sudan.
“Some of them, when they get defeated, they find their way into Uganda. In today’s meeting, we should come out with how to manage them. We need to investigate deeper on how they interfere with our relationship,” he said.
Gen. Mbadi told journalists after the meeting that the two sides had pledged to guarantee peace and corporation at the borders for the common good of the two countries.
“Our relationship with South Sudan is so deeply rooted in the values of pan-Africanism, integration, identity, and independence of both countries, besides strategic security between the two countries. This is what we pledged to uphold,” Gen Mbadi said.
“We promised each other to deal with these gaps so that we correct them to continue to have harmony, confidence, and mutual trust that we need to consolidate this relationship and push for the stability of this region,” he added.
Reports from security personnel in Lamwo District indicated that the SSPDF forces advanced towards Uganda’s territory in an attempt to raid the immigration center at Ngomoromo Border Post to recover impounded motorcycles.
It is reported that Ugandan security at Ngomoromo Border Post had impounded several motorcycles belonging to South Sudanese nationals in the past months for failing to pay road user fees following their illegal entry into Uganda.
Earlier last month after the two armies clashed, the SSPDF army spokesperson, Maj Gen. Lul Ruai Koang, in a statement, accused the UPDF mechanized unit of making incursions in the South Sudanese territory.
Gen Koang claimed that the UPDF, armed with heavy artillery pieces and light military trucks mounted with 12.7mm machine guns, launched a cross border attack on their defensive border outpost at Pogee in Magwi County in the Eastern Equatoria State.
He said a counter-attack codenamed ‘operation restore the territorial integrity of the Republic of South Sudan’ was launched to flush out mechanized units of UPDF, adding that they have since regained full control of Pogee, reinforced and strengthened their defensive postures along the Uganda-South Sudanese border.
In the past, Ugandan and South Sudanese military leaders secured the South Sudan-Uganda Border together.
The meeting resolved to conduct induction and sensitization between forces on both sides to help in continually building on their mutual interests in the area of security and to guarantee the security and welfare of nationals of both countries once they cross into either country to do work or business.
The UPDF will also support SSPDF in the training and human resource development of its forces.