UPDF warns Ugandans against moving unescorted to South Sudan

Mamos Media

South Sudanese nationals plead with Ugandan security officials at Elegu border in Amuru District in March 2020. This followed the closure of the crossing point over Covid-19. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

By Tobbias Jolly Owiny

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) have warned Ugandans against travelling to South Sudan without the backing of the country’s army or police. 

The warning comes in the wake of several ambushes on the Juba-Nimule highway in which truck drivers and passengers have either been shot dead or injured.

The latest incident on Sunday saw unknown gunmen shoot at a convoy of three trucks on the same highway. 

“That route is not safe for our people; the moment they reach Elegu Border, they should first ensure that the routes are secured,”  Lt Hammed Hassan Kato from the UPDF 4th Division said, adding: 

“Given the [war] situation in South Sudan, there are a lot of wrong people and groups right now there.”
Lt Kato said Ugandans “should establish whether the SPLA (South Sudan army) have sent in forces to picket and secure the routes so that they can move in and out when they are safe enough with their goods and resources.” 

Latest victims
The victims of the latest ambush had by press time not been identified. The two corpses believed to be of a Ugandan and either a Kenyan or Eritrean are currently being kept in Juba hospital.  Advertisement

The Sunday killings come less than a week after another ambush left five people dead on the same route. The victims, who included, two nuns and a boda boda rider, were commuting from Loa Parish in Torit Diocese, Eastern Equatoria Province in South Sudan, where Loa Parish Centenary  celebrations had been staged.

The ambushes have been precipitated by a breakdown in relations within the South Sudan Liberation Army – In Opposition (SPLA-IO). Elements inside the rival faction of Lt Gen Simon Gatwech Dual said they would carry out ambushes on the Juba-Nimule route if South Sudan Vice President Dr Riek Machar continued to cling onto power.

The clashes erupted after Dr Machar’s rivals declared that they had deposed him as the head of the party and its military forces. Lives were lost and hundreds injured. President Salva Kiir later held meetings with the leaders of the factions and ordered them to cease hostilities.

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and several other agencies issued a joint communique, urging all the parties to restrain from fighting. 

Persistent attacks
Despite the presence of a security protocol and peace pact signed between the UPDF and the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) last year, ambushes and killings of truck drivers and passengers on the Juba-Nimule highway have persisted.

Early this month, truck drivers entering and exiting South Sudan brought business at the Elegu border in Amuru district to a standstill when they held a protest over the killing of one of their colleagues in Nimule.

Hundreds of trucks parked around Elegu border town and blocked traffic while the truck drivers demanded answers and action from the Ugandan authorities.
Issa Umar, a 28-year-old Kenyan driver, was shot dead 50kms from Nimule while driving to Juba.

In April, a negotiation meeting between the truck drivers as well as delegations from South Sudan and Uganda hit a dead end. This followed the truckers’ demand that heads of state of the concerned East Africa countries (EAC) be involved in the negotiation. 

They argued that providing security to escort them to Juba in South Sudan would be short-lived unless the respective heads of states participated themselves. During the meeting, the South Sudanese government agreed to take full responsibility of compensating and escorting the drivers right from the Ugandan border to Juba.

Recently, Maj Gen Akol Ayii, a South Sudanese official, told Daily Monitor that they resolved to disband all traffic and roadblocks on the highway due to increased illegalities. 

Looking back
Last November, the former South Sudan Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Johnson Juma Okot led a high-profile delegation of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) to meet their Ugandan counterparts in Gulu city.

The delegation was ushered into the 4th Division Barracks by a UPDF who-is-who that included officers like Lt Gen Peter Elwelu and Maj Gen Paul Lokech (RIP).  Some of the resolutions agreed to during the high-level meeting were to conduct induction and sensitisation between forces on both sides.

This was hoped to help in continually building on mutual interests in the area of security. Guaranteeing the security and welfare of nationals of both countries once they cross into either country was also agreed upon. Recent developments, however, prove that what came out of the meeting was no more than a paper tiger.

Growing Trend
At least nine Ugandans were killed on March 29 after they were ambushed in South Sudan. Two weeks earlier, South Sudanese gunmen had killed eight fishermen at Odujo Landing Site in Kajo-Keji County, on River Nile shared by Uganda and South Sudan.

On April 1, five Ugandans were killed and three others injured when gunmen ambushed a convoy of trucks returning to Uganda on the Juba-Nimule Road.

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