South Sudan authorities shun planned security meeting with their Ugandan counterparts

West Nile leaders and the security personnel seated under a mango tree waiting for the South Sudan authorities for the meeting. PHOTO | RONALD ACEMA

What you need to know:

  • The meeting which was scheduled to take place at Kerwa Sub County headquarters in Yumbe District, was about the release of five Ugandans currently being held in South Sudan.

Leaders from the West Nile region were Saturday left frustrated after South Sudan authorities they had planned to have a security meeting with, did not show up.

The meeting which was scheduled to take place at Kerwa Sub County headquarters in Yumbe District, was about the release of five Ugandans currently being held in South Sudan.

The detainees include; Mbaku Kassim Salim, Godi Dafala, Nyaga Asirafu and Ajobe Kassim Boboli all residents of Ludara sub-county in Koboko District, and another detainee yet to be identified.

They were intercepted by South Sudan security personnel at Kerwa Boma, Liwolo Payam area in Kajo Keji County, Central Equatoria State of South Sudan on January, 21 as they were moving from Dongoro in Lanya County, a few days ago.

The authorities became suspicious of their movements in an area that is believed to be dominated by the National Salvation Front (NAS) rebel group under the leadership of General Thomas Cirilo.

According to Koboko District Chairman Mr Ashrafu Mambu, the action of shunning the planned engagement meeting by the South Sudan officials was rather a huge embarrassment for the Ugandan team who had shown commitment to address the concern.

"It's an embarrassment to us after we got a communication from the commissioner of Kajo Keji County and the director of Liwolo that we should pick our people. They were arrested in South Sudan after they were taken by a businessman to participate in the loading of logs. When we got the communication we were able to verify the names and found out that they are truly Ugandans and they have never participated in any rebel activities," he said.

"They demanded Shs1.5 million from us before they release the people to us but we could not afford it. When we communicated to the South Sudan Liaison Officer in West Nile, who told us not to pay money because those are issues of governments and the people would be handed over to us peacefully, but to our dismay, we were let down," he added.

The Yumbe Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr Mathew Vuyaya Vuni, noted that South Sudan leadership has shown an unwillingness to respect the diplomatic relationship between Uganda and South Sudan, which citizens have enjoyed over a long period of time.

"It is a very unfortunate situation because I believe people at the borders here are brothers and sisters. So, we should have come to a common understanding. If the leadership of South Sudan is not respecting the international borders and the relationship between Uganda and South Sudan, it's very unfortunate," he said.

The West Nile Regional Internal Security Officer Mr David Drici called upon South Sudan authorities to sort out their internal challenges to address cross-border issues effectively.

"There is a superiority complex at the border point from what we have witnessed from the side of South Sudan. The commander thinks he has more authority than the commissioner and that is an internal problem which they must iron out rather than punishing us," he said.

Mr Phanuel Dumo, the Commissioner of Kajo Keji County in a telephone interview told the Monitor that the authorities of South Sudan need more time to adequately establish the motive of the five Ugandans who were intercepted in South Sudan before they can be handed over to the Ugandan authorities.

"This issue took us by surprise. We were not aware of what happened to those Ugandans and that morning we learnt that they were going to be handed over to Ugandan authorities. Nobody knows the reason why these people came to South Sudan as of now," he said.

During a cross-border security meeting held in Yumbe in October last year, the security chiefs of South Sudan and the West Nile Sub-region agreed to end cases of cross-border insecurity that have for long, strained relations between the two countries.

The security situation at the joint border has been volatile amid counter-accusations between the two countries of supporting rebel activities, especially inside South Sudan.

Col Ben Serwadda, the Commander of the 409 Brigade, said: “Any person who interferes with the security, peace and stability of the two countries, the guys in uniform will come in. We launched an operation against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and they are no more. So no one will manage to destabilize us.”

On his part, the Governor of Central Equatoria State in South Sudan, Mr Anthony Emmanuel Adil, said they remain committed to engaging the people and districts of the West Nile sub-region to maintain sustainable border relations.