Intelligence officers attached to the Uganda People’s Defence Force ( UPDF) 4th Division in Gulu District are investigating an incident in which its soldiers reportedly beat up Jovin Odokonyero last month.
Mr Odokonyero, a truck driver with Zhongmei Engineering Group Company was allegedly given 60 strokes of the cane by two soldiers who accused him of stealing four batteries from trucks parked at the company’s camp.
The camp opposite Pece Government Prison in Gulu Town is guarded by seven UPDF soldiers.
Mr Xi Walker, the Zhongmei Ltd manager for Gulu, said the soldiers promised they would find the batteries when they learnt the items were missing.
“But in the afternoon, we were shocked to be called that soldiers were torturing one of the drivers whom they accused of stealing the batteries. We stopped them since it is wrong but we did not know how they singled out the driver,” Mr Xi said. The soldiers allegedly rolled the accused in mud several times.
“Even when I pleaded with them, that I did not know the whereabouts of the missing batteries, I was not spared. My face, ribs, groin and neck, were beaten terribly while asking me to return the batteries,” Mr Odokonyero said.
The UPDF 4th Division authorities have declined to disclose the identity of the soldiers involved.
Daily Monitor established that another suspect, a woman, working with Zhongmei, was also beaten up by the soldiers.
Officials at the civil military operations unit, however, admitted that Mr Odokonyero’s tormentors at some point called and notified them that they were pursuing a woman around that area who is said to be having a hand in the theft.
Although he (Odokonyero) said the soldiers consulted his bosses before torturing him, Mr Xi denied the allegations.
“It is true the driver is one of my workers but we did not have any influence in causing the soldiers to beat him up, those soldiers only guard our premises and we don’t command them,” Mr Xi said.
Maj Ceasar Olweny, the UPDF 4th Division spokesman, told Daily Monitor that once investigations are complete, the suspects will face the military court martial.
“We always give our solders briefing wherever they go to perform their duties professionally. If it is true they are our soldiers and they acted outside the law, we shall prosecute them accordingly,” Maj Olweny said.
By Monday, the company had not yet reported the theft of their properties at Gulu Central Police Station.
Mr Xi said they deliberately declined to report the matter to police but let the soldiers investigate.
“We have lost a lot of equipment and properties to thieves because the CID spend years to investigate. At times they ask us to forgive the thieves since some of them are first time offenders,” Mr Xi said.
Mr Charles Ochora, the brother of the victim, on Monday said Mr Odokonyero is seeking Shs5 million compensation from the soldiers.
“In the first week, we asked them to give us Shs3.5 million but they failed and we have increased to Shs5million with a deadline of Monday, September 16, or else we go to court,” Mr Ochora added.
An officer with the UPDF’s civil military operations unit, who is mediating the negotiation between the two soldiers and their victim but asked for anonymity in order to speak freely, confirmed that the soldiers had engaged Mr Odokonyero in negotiations.
“They told me today (Monday) that they are negotiating before the LC1 of Pece Lukung A, but in case negotiations fail, he can still get back to us since he has opened a file here,” the officer said.
Zhongmei Company currently working on the Gulu-Moroto road, a few months ago hired the security services of the UPDF after accusing police and other private security firms that formerly guarded their premises of conniving with workers to steal equipment and other company properties.