The Ugandan troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) have formally handed over the security in the country’s east to its army at a function held in Obo, some 1,200km east of the capital Bangui.
The Ugandan flag was lowered and that of the CAR hoisted in the presence of American troops, United Nations peacekeepers and senior CAR security and defence officials.
Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi, said UPDF was leaving CAR when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels are “degraded in terms of personnel and equipment”. The UPDF deployed in the country under the four-nation African Union Regional Taskforce to counter the LRA, with about 100 US Special Forces deployed in 2011 providing Intelligence at field forward operating bases.
American organisations tracking activities of the LRA and some Ugandan security official, citing accounts by defectors, have speculated that the Joseph Kony-led rebels number about 250 operating in scattered and mobile groups in the jungles of CAR.
Both Uganda and the US announced last month that they were withdrawing their troops because the rebels’ military capability had been degraded and they posed no security threat.
“We leave with many lessons learned. We have tooled many and also increased our network,” Gen Muhoozi said.
The last battalion to withdraw is 41st under the command of Lt Col Steven Simbwa. Gen Muhoozi said UPDF was ready to help CAR forces to continue pursuing different armed groups in CAR. “We pledge to make any contribution if invited to help,” he said.
According to Gen Muhoozi, the biggest challenges the UPDF faced during the eight year counter-LRA insurgence operations were; force multipliers and lack of access to restricted areas used by the LRA as safe haven especially in the Democratic Republic Congo and Sudan. There are fears that the UPDF withdrawal might leave security vacuum in the area.
Some residents who talked to Daily Monitor in Obo, say killings by armed groups have already started in Zemio, an area formerly occupied by the UPDF.
“There were killings in Bangassou in Zemio. We are scared these killings might spread to Obo,” said Bibi Spoon, a businessman in Obo.
UPDF also donated medicine to a hospital in Obo. State minister for Defence Col Charles Engola, who led the Ugandan delegation to oversee the handover ceremony, said the donation was to help treat diseases like malaria and sexually-transmitted diseases which are common in the area.
WOII Onesmus Kukundakwe, a UPDF clinical officer, said malaria and STDs have high prevalence rate in the area.