Last week, the Acholi Cultural Institution premier Ambrose Olaa and eight others were abducted by an armed group in South Sudan. The group regained their freedom after three days following intervention of the UN Mission in South Sudan and World Vision.
Mr Olaa, who was picked up in South Sudan’s Gbudwe State close to the western border with DR Congo and the Central African Republic, had been doing consultancy on peace building with World Vision International.
While security officials in Uganda have not disclosed the identity of the armed group behind the abduction, the UPDF 4th Division spokesperson, Maj Telesphor Turyamumanya, said the abductees were released in a jungle and they were tracing for a convenient place where they could be picked up.
It is a welcome relief, particularly for the Acholi Cultural Institution, that Mr Olaa has been freed. The incident, however, raises broader concerns about the security of Ugandans in South Sudan and those residing around the border areas.
Given the prolonged instability in South Sudan, there are various rebel outfits and armed groups. This has led to widespread lawlessness and armed gangs operating mostly around border areas where they terrorise cross border traders, raid cattle, farms and homesteads inside Uganda.
The government of South Sudan may not have control over such armed groups, which makes it difficult to engage them constructively.
Cases of abduction and harassment by South Sudan armed groups both in South Sudan and the border areas, including inside Uganda, have therefore become common. In August last year, a suspected South Sudan rebel group operating near Lamwo District in northern Uganda, abducted six Ugandan businessmen, held them in a prison and demanded a Shs3 million ransom in order to release them.
The area where the businessmen were abducted – Lubone Sub County, Magwi County in Imatong State in South Sudan – just five kilometres from Aweno Olwi border post in Lamwo District, was then controlled by rebels.
In 2014, similar reports of abduction, torture and harassment were reported in the West Nile district of Moyo when 16 Ugandans were detained by South Sudan militia while carrying out a census exercise at Wano Village, Lefori Sub-county in Moyo District. The militia claimed the territory belonged to South Sudan.
Such reports, and several others, including a recent case where a South Sudan MP was assassinated in Uganda by gunmen operating in South Sudan, calls for tougher security measures to protect Ugandans living around border areas and South Sudan refugees in Uganda.