How plot to overthrow the govt was uncovered

Some of the UPDF soldiers and civilians accused of plotting to overthrow the government appear in the dock at Makindye-based General Court Martial in Kampala on Tuesday. Photo | Juliet Kigongo

What you need to know:

  • There are accounts, which this publication was unable to independently verify, that the infiltrators had paid at least Shs50m to one of the suspects.

Two months ago, in the first week of October, military spies picked intelligence that the army had been infiltrated and some officers paid to recruit peers or conduct espionage.

 The information provided to counter-intelligence operatives under the Directorate of Intelligence of the UPDF Land Forces did not name the masterminds reported to be foreign actors.

 The counter-espionage unit, simply referred in military parlance as CI, specialises in identifying, neutralising and exploiting activities of hostile intelligence agencies, rendering the suspicions relayed the bloodline of its operations.

 Multiple sources knowledgeable about the matter said preliminary reports indicated that substantial amounts of cash had exchanged hands, and hundreds of millions more of Ugandan shillings promised, for the mission.

 Informants also suggested that the headquarters in Masaka City of UPDF’s Armoured Brigade, the specialised unit running the call on military tanks, artilleries and other armoured fleet, was the primary target. 

 The intention was three-fold: blow up more than 150 new tanks in the gunshed, compromise capabilities of some of the armoured fleet and enlist soldiers as listening posts/accomplices.

 The UPDF Intelligence Directorate then transmitted what insiders considered actionable intelligence to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), Ugandan army’s investigative arm.

 CMI mandate covers collecting, analysing and disseminating information related to the capabilities, intentions and activities of potential adversaries.

 Using the information gleaned from human sources, CMI reportedly deployed its technical capabilities, including intensified wiretapping of the rank-and-file of the military.

 Within days, the operatives believed they had made a breakthrough.

 A group moved with hi-tech communication monitoring gadgets to the Armoured Brigade headquarters in Masaka where they retrieved messages and audios off mobile phone handsets of soldiers.

 According to a senior security officer briefed on the operation, this enabled the investigators to pinpoint the key suspects and map their accomplices in other military units.

 39-year-old Capt Denish Oola Oyaa, the operations training officer for 6Tank Battalion, was among the first suspects to be detained initially at the Armoured Brigade headquarters before relocation for further interrogations in the capital.

Information he and others provided while in custody reportedly led to the arrest of dozens of soldiers from October 10 – majority still reportedly incarcerated at CMI headquarters in Mbuya, a Kampala suburb.

CMI operatives and Special Forces Command (SFC) commandos conducted the swoops in Masaka, at the SFC headquarters in Kasenyi in Entebbe and Fort Portal in western Uganda where the counter-offensive against Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is based.

 Additional operations resulted in arrests at the army’s Nakasongola airbase in central Uganda and in Maracha District in West Nile where suspects allegedly moving UPDF assets for sale to foreign buyers were intercepted.

 A villager there, identified as Mr Moses Ayikoyo, who photographed the suspects he found pinned to the ground face-down was arrested too, and freed after days of interrogation while in CMI custody in Kampala absolved him.

 Mr Ayikoyo was returning from selling tobacco at a local buying centre, and this publication understands that operatives who arrested him are yet to return Shs14m they seized from him.

 Back in Masaka, as the inquiries expanded, personnel attached to the Armoured Brigade were banned from leaving the barracks, except with a pass leave as official permission from superiors is called in security forces.

 One source added that no person --- whether a soldier or their family members --- was allowed to wander within the barracks past 8pm. And the military strength at the Quarter Guard, the official gate to a military installation, was tripled.

 The heightened security followed revelations that one of the suspected soldiers taken into custody was found with more than a dozen Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), a home-assembled bomb that President Museveni, the commander-in-chief, as recent as yesterday said ADF sleeper cells are exploding in and around Kampala. 

Some of the UPDF soldiers accused of plotting to overthrow the government appear in the dock at Makindye-based General Court Martial on December 5, 2023. PHOTO/ JULIET KIGONGO

In the case of Masaka, the IEDs were intended to be used to detonate newly procured tanks, a source close to the investigations said. 

All sources interviewed over the weeks for this story spoke on condition spoke of anonymity, citing sensitivity of the matter and fear of reprimand.

 Defence and UPDF Spokesman, Bri Felix Kulayigye, in response to our inquiries yesterday said that “we have the ring leader who is a Captain by rank and other members who are connected to the crime, they have already appeared in court and they will face the arm of the law”.

 There are accounts, which this publication was unable to independently verify, that the infiltrators had paid at least Shs50m to one of the suspects and planned to transfer another tranche of Shs250m depending on the progress of their mission.

A top military source, unlike in the past, this time did not link this apparent subversion to ADF, blaming then an unidentified “group in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.

 Uganda’s army, the UPDF, has over the past two years been involved in counter-offensives, alongside the Congolese military, against mainly the ADF and other subversive elements such as militias. 

Another UPDF contingent was deployed in eastern Congo a few months ago under the aegis of the East African Community Regional Force, some of whose members began withdrawing on Sunday after President Felix Tshisekedi called time up on it for failing to fight and neutralise the M23 rebels as Kinshasa hoped.

 Brig Felix Kulayigye, told KFM, our sister radio station, on Monday that it was never the mandate of the regional force to counter M23 and that the regional force aimed to create a security buffer to allow a political process including talks to thrive, which never happened.

 In a separate development, details of the new Ugandan rebel group believed to be based in the DRC was revealed in court documents on Tuesday as Uganda Lord’s Salvation Army (ULSA) when 31 suspects, among them eight junior army officers including Capt Denish Oola Oyaa, were indicted for plotting to overthrow the government.

 They were specifically accused of treachery and unlawful possession of firearms, with the former charge attracting death penalty for convicts. 

 Treachery, under Section 16 of UPDF Act, is an offence involving infiltration on behalf of foreign entities, solicitation and unauthorised sharing of military information and or withholding of vital security information from proper authorities.

 Prosecution told the General Court Martial sitting in Makindye, a Kampala outskirt, and chaired by Brig Freeman Robert Mugabe, the accused --- among them three pastors, a teacher and masons --- between February 2022 and October 2023 engaged in “war or war-like activities intending to overthrow the government of Uganda”.

 It is alleged that they committed the offences in various places within and outside the country, including South Sudan’s capital Juba, where they “held meetings, recruited and formed a rebel group called Uganda Lord’s Salvation Army…”

It remained unclear why only 31 suspects were presented in court on Tuesday when more than 150 across military formations were incarcerated.

 However, prosecutors Lt Col Raphael Mugisha and Lt Alex Mukwana said investigations are still ongoing, leaving open the possibility that more suspects could be charged at the General Court Martial.

 Those indicted were remanded to Makindye Military and Kigo civilian prisons until January 22, 2024.

The suspects

 1. Capt Denish Oola Oyaa, 39, attached to 6Tank Battalion as Operations Training Officer.

2. Lt Benjamin Edoru, 36, attached to Armour Maintenance Unit as a Staff Officer.

3. WOII Sunday Jenaro Oryek, 48, tank engine technician.

4. Sgt Bernard Morris Leku aka Peter Anguadia, 50, deserter from Field Engineering Unit.

5. Cpl John Ojokuna Elatu, 40, gunner attached to 6Tank Battalion Peace Support Operations Training Centre (PSOTC) Singo

6. Cpl Ronald Keuber, 52, driver/mechanic attached to 1 Tank Battalion.

7. Cpl David Olal, 46, police officer.

8. Cpl Moses Anyang, 27, tank operator/nurse attached to 6 Tank Battalion Armoured Brigade.

9. Judith Angwech 52, a pastoress

10. Simon Oyoma, 49, pastor

11. Daniel Owitti alias Ott alias ODM, 45, a social worker

12. Fabio Ocen, 42, a builder

13. Muhammed Ijosiga, 72, peasant

14. Stanley Yiacia alias Simple, 64, a marketer

15. Anthony Kamau Omach, 54, teacher

16. Joaquin Parmu, 33, an electrician

17. Abdul Hakim Oruku Koloboka, 42, security guard

18. Habibu Ezale, 65, mechanic

19. Sebbi Keppo, 63, peasant

20. Siraj Chandiga, 43, carpenter

21. Joseph Okwai, 58, plumber

22. Swadik Kujo, 52, peasant

23. Abdumalik Ochan alias Peter, 73, peasant

24. Michael Opecha alias Simple Michael, 41, Local Council II chairman

25. Tom Owoths Apavuson, 39, a property dealer

26. Stephen Eteu, 35, peasant

27. Lamex Oguma alias Pastor, 38, pastor

28. Wilson Ochen alias Senior alias RDC, 58, police/businessman

29. Swaib Edema, 52, peasant

30. Ida Kasim, 57,

31. Ratib Asuma Buga, 47, peasant.

Extracted from charge sheet at the General Court Martial

The law

The offence of Treachery

 A person subject to military law who, for any purpose prejudicial to the security or interests of Uganda - (a) infiltrates the army of or is an agent of a foreign power or of any force engaging in war or warlike activities against the Government; (b) consciously gives information to a foreign power or any force engaging in war or warlike activities against the Government or solicits information with a view to giving it to such power or force; (c) consciously gives information to anyone without the knowledge and approval of the proper authority; or (d) consciously withholds vital information from the proper authorities, commits the offence of treachery and is liable on conviction to suffer death.”

Section 16 of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Act