UPDF repatriates two South Sudanese rebels

Wednesday October 13 2021
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Cpt James Majok, the SSPDF Liaison Officer, signs the repatriation documents at the 4th Division Barracks in Gulu District yesterday. Seated are the two rebel suspects, Pte Augustine Yakal (right) , and Cpl Victor Batali. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

By Tobbias Jolly Owiny

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) have handed over two National Salvation Front (NSF) rebels to the South Sudan government after they were arrested in Uganda in January.

Cpl Victor Batali, 43, and Pte Augustine Yakal, 21, were handed over during exercises conducted at the UPDF 4th Division headquarters in Gulu District and Elegu Border post yesterday.

Cpt James Majok, the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces liaison officer, received the duo from the barracks and at the Elegu border.

While handing over the rebels, the UPDF said Uganda is not a haven for hiding its neighbour’s enemies at the compromise of peace and development of both countries.

“It is in our mandate to ensure the security of our borderline, our country among other interests in South Sudan,” the UPDF 4th division spokesperson, Lt Hammad Hassan Kato, said.

Lt Kato said such people were the ones plotting attacks and killing people on Juba-Nimule highway, and leaving them to hide inside Uganda compromises the diplomatic integrity of both  countries.

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Brig Bonny Bamwiseki, the division commander, tasked the South Sudan officials to sign several documents as evidence that the soldiers were received safely.

“By signing these, we want to make sure we hand over to them healthy people, and we give them in the hands of the liaison officer to ensure that they reach well, they are safe and nothing happens to them,” Brig Bamwiseki said.

“They might go back to the other side and claim that they were tortured and that they had wounds, etc yet we did nothing to them,”  he added.

According to the repatriation documents, which Daily Monitor has seen, the pair was arrested from Koboko District. Cpl Batali from the Central Equatorial Province-Morobo County was arrested on November 27, 2020 from Small London in Koboko while Pte Yakal, formerly a boda boda rider from the same county, was arrested in January from the same area.

Upon his arrest, Cpl Batali alleged that in 2016, Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) rebels captured him and asked him to either join them or be killed.

“I was taken for military  training and later deployed at Mugo County, Panyam Village  in Central Equatorial and served in SPLA-IO Army between 2016-  2017 but crossed to serve in the National Salvation Front under Gen Thomas  Cerilo Soka when SPLA-IO split,” he said.

Pte Yakal alleges that he was captured in 2018 and forcefully taken for military training in Akefa near Yei County where he spent almost two years and escaped in 2020 to join his parents who had relocated to Uganda.

Repatriation documents indicate that Cpl Batali was arrested over illegal entry into Uganda. 

“He told us that he holds the rank of a brigadier, but upon interrogation, we discovered that he is actually a corporal,” the document reads in part.

Rebels uncertain of safety

Cpl Victor Batali said they had pleaded with the UPDF authorities to detain them at their prisons instead of returning them to South Sudan. 

“We are not sure of our safety. By the time the UPDF arrested us at the Uganda-South Sudan border in Koboko, they wanted to take us back but we refused since the UN or Amnesty International came in to be witnesses,” he said. 

But Pte Yakal said with the extraction, his future is uncertain.  

“Last week, the UPDF said they will bring the Red Cross and hand us over to them, then we said ok. But South Sudan is our home and now that they are taking us back, if they are doing me bad (and killing me), my blood will have shed for my country,” he said. 

However, Capt Majok insisted that the duo will be returned safely and reunited with their families. “We shall hand them over to Amnesty International, which will ensure that they return to their homes safely. We don’t intend to do anything to them since they have shown remorsefulness.” Cpt Majok said.

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