Ugandans and other foreign nationals trapped in South Sudan are now sneaking into the country using cargo trucks, Daily Monitor has established.
This means that some of these people enter the country without being tested for coronavirus and pose a big threat to communities in which they live.
The passengers are loaded into the containers from South Sudan and are offloaded 37km into Uganda at Atiak border town in Amuru District upon crossing from Elegu border in Amuru District, sources who claimed anonymity, say.
On Monday, a police officer at Atiak, in Amuru District, who declined to be mentioned since he was not deployed for such operations, confirmed that he saw two trucks offloading people at the town.
“It was raining and each of the trucks arrived at different intervals to the same point near the junction that turns to Lamwo District. The second vehicle stood for about 15 minutes before the occupants disembarked from its container,” he said.
Although he could only remember the description of the second vehicle with a Tanzanian registration number (that he shared to this reporter), the officer said the first vehicle had a Ugandan registration number and that all drove towards Gulu.
At Ngomoromo and Madiopei border points in Lamwo District, similar cases have been registered.
On Tuesday morning, police in Lamwo District confirmed that they had detained a truck at Lamwo Central Police Station after 17 passengers were discovered to be hiding under the cargo it was carrying.
“Fortunately we had sniffer dogs that day and we were able to check every truck. When the dog insisted with its sniffing, we asked the driver to open after which we checked and found all these people,” a security personnel said.
When asked for details of the vehicle and its occupants, the officer referred this reporter to the regional police spokesperson since they were not allowed to communicate matters in regard to coronavirus.
During a taskforce committee meeting for Gulu District on Tuesday afternoon, the Aswa River regional police commander, Mr Ezekiel Emitu, confirmed that passengers from South Sudan were being carried into Uganda by trucks.
Mr Emitu said some passengers were discovered by security dressed in overalls and smeared with grease to appear like mechanics in order to cross through the border at Elegu.
Every day, Uganda Revenue Authority and immigration agents at Elegu border currently clear a minimum of 150 trucks.
“So, of the 150 trucks cleared, 100 are carrying these kind of passengers, you can imagine how many of these kind of persons are sneaking into the country and could possibly be spreading the infection,” he said, adding that truck drivers were exploiting desperate people stranded in South Sudan to carry them in their trucks.
Late last month, President Museveni stopped passengers coming into Uganda by air, land or water and also prohibited from pedestrians from neighbouring countries.
Mr Museveni said only cargo planes and cargo vehicles within Uganda and other countries should continue driving with only their aircraft crews and three persons per cargo vehicle.
However, the shutdown orders caught unaware thousands of Ugandans and nationals of other neighbouring countries that access South Sudan through Uganda who are currently said to be trapped in South Sudan.
Mr Emitu said police have been deployed at all the border points in Acholi Sub-region although there are several shortcuts through which people were sneaking into Uganda since security could not cover them all.
Police accused of extortion
Meanwhile, police and army officers implementing the presidential directives on covid-19 in Gulu are on the spot for reportedly extorting money from the locals.
One of the affected persons told Daily Monitor in an interview yesterday that he was harassed by army and police on Queens Avenue on Tuesday when he returned from the market.
“They accused me of failure to adhere to the directives and asked me for money. I had to give them Shs5,000 to set me free,” he said.
The chairperson of Pece Division, Mr Kerry Komakech, said other law enforcement officers were also extorting money from the public, not only the army and police, even the division law enforcers.
“We registered one case of our own, who entered a shop and picked things, yet his work was to enforce the directive,’’ he said.
Police. Aswa regional police spokesperson Jimmy Patrick Okema regretted the incident adding that the person whose money was taken should report to police formally.
“We acknowledge that some of the officers in the forces have personal weaknesses that should not be attributed to entire force,’’ he said
The Gulu taskforce chairperson, Mr Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, said: “We are investigating those who are accused of getting money from people while enforcing the operations.”