The South Sudan chief of defence forces, Gen Johnson Juma Okot, led a high-profile delegation of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) to meet their Ugandan counterparts in Gulu City on Friday.
The meeting was held at the 4th Division Barracks and attended by Lt Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) deputy chief of defence forces, the Land Force commander, Lt Gen Peter Elwelu, and Maj Gen Paul Lokech, a senior military officer, among others.
The meeting was meant to settle the recent series of clashes between the two forces at their common borderlines, cause reconciliation and derive a way forward to peaceful coexistence between the two countries.
“We have come here to make peace. How do we put our hands together and chat the best way forward for us to live together, take care of our countries and authorities,” Gen Okot said.
Gen Okot noted that it was unfortunate to have people misunderstand the wealth of historical relations between the two countries by causing conflicts that would, in other words, risk the lives to thousands of South Sudanese refugees that are currently settled in Uganda.
“We have been so privileged that Uganda is providing protection to our displaced people in northern Uganda. Our children have been able to go to school, pursue their welfare, including their health,” he added.
On May 31, three SSPDF soldiers were shot dead by the UPDF at Goboro detach following a clash at Maru Village in Yumbe District.
The armed SSPDF soldiers, who were dressed in civilian clothes, had reportedly been harassing locals from May 20 to May 30 when the UPDF got involved.
They reportedly looted people’s houses, took animals and forced people to give them money, as well as threatening to attack them if they did not leave the area.
The UPDF recovered five guns (one machine gun and four AK47 riffles) after the incident and handed the dead over to their counterparts in South Sudan at Afoji Border, according to Mr Leuben Ndifula, the UPDF spokesperson for West Nile.
Mr Ndifula added that the soldiers entered one-and-a-half kilometres into Uganda and their aim was just to disturb people at the border.
Another incident was when at least 36 SSPDF soldiers from Pogee Border post invaded Pangira Parish in Lokung Sub-county and staged a roadblock on unclear grounds, sparking gunfire exchange with the UPDF.
Two SSPDF soldiers were killed and another captured along with three sub-machine guns.
Although both UPDF and SSPDF accused each other of failing to respect their territorial boundaries, an intelligence report pins SSPDF soldiers of plotting an attack on Ngomoromo Border Post.
SSPDF also reported that several of their soldiers had been killed within Kidepo Valley National Park upon crossing into the Uganda territory.
Gen Okot also called for the corporation from Uganda’s intelligence structures in order to help the SSPDF get rid of security threats from rebels and other fugitives who fled to Uganda but continue to sneak back and terrorise people in South Sudan.
“Some of them, when they get defeated, they find their way into Uganda. In today’s meeting, we should come out with how to manage them. We need to investigate deeper on how they interfere with our relationship,” he said.
Gen Mbadi told journalists after the meeting that the two sides had pledged to guarantee peace and corporation at the borders for the common good of the two countries.
“Our relationship with South Sudan is so deeply rooted in the values of pan Africanism, integration, identity and independence of both countries, besides strategic security between the two countries. This is what we pledged to uphold,” Gen Mbadi said.
“We promised each other to deal with these gaps so that we correct them so as to continue to have harmony, confidence, and mutual trust that we need in order to consolidate this relationship and push for the stability of this region,” he added.
Two weeks ago, Gulu Archbishop John Baptist Odama cautioned Uganda and South Sudan governments against fronting violence as alternatives to settle misunderstandings between them.
Archbishop Odama said the two neighbouring countries share a lot in common historically and should look at promoting avenues that improve the healthy relationship and economy.
Archbishop Odama said Uganda is home to thousands of South Sudan refugees who fled violence.
“If South Sudan engages in conflict with Uganda, it would be indirectly fighting its citizens on one hand,” he said.
Uganda hosts some 882,000 South Sudanese refugees as of September 30, according to data from the Office of the Prime Minister.
Archbishop Odama’s statement followed the standoff between forces of the two countries at the end of October at the contentious Uganda-South Sudan border at Lokung in Lamwo District.
Reports from security personnel in Lamwo District indicated that the SSPDF forces advanced towards Uganda’s territory in an attempt to raid the immigration centre at Ngomoromo Border Post to recover impounded motorcycles.
It is reported that Ugandan security at Ngomoromo Border Post had impounded several motorcycles belonging to South Sudanese nationals in the past months for failing to pay road user fees following their illegal entry into Uganda.
Earlier on, the SSPDF army spokesperson, Maj Gen Koang, in a statement, accused the UPDF mechanised unit of making incursions in the South Sudanese territory.
Gen Koang claimed that the UPDF, armed with heavy artillery pieces and light military trucks mounted with 12.7mm machine guns, launched a cross border attack on their defensive border outpost at Pogee in Magwi County in the Eastern Equatoria State.
He said a counterattack codenamed ‘operation restore territorial integrity of the Republic of South Sudan’ was launched to flush out mechanised units of UPDF, adding that they have since regained full control of Pogee, reinforced and strengthened their defensive postures along the Uganda-South Sudanese border.
In the past, Ugandan and South Sudanese military leaders secured the South Sudan-Uganda Border together.
However, the two countries need to work together again, including sharing intelligence and conducting joint patrols to secure the border.
• Conduct induction and sensitization between forces on both sides to help in continually building on their mutual interests in the area of security.
• Guaranteeing the security and welfare of nationals of both countries once they cross into either country to do work or business.
• UPDF to support SSPDF in training and human resource development of its forces.