Uganda: Blood On The Border

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July 26, 2008: Along the Sudanese border, an army patrol ran into a group of 30 Sudanese tribal warriors, smuggling weapons. A battle broke out, and eight of the warriors were killed, while the rest fled back to Sudan. Several automatic weapons were recovered. This gun battle in the bush is part of a  disarmament campaign along the Sudanese border. This has been successful, removing about two thirds of the 40,000 illegal guns held by tribesmen in the last seven years. Most of the weapons were recovered through a government "weapons turn-in" program in the Karamoja tribal region (northeastern Uganda). The Karamoja are cattle herders who occasionally engage in smuggling and raiding.

Many tribal warriors acquired automatic weapons when cheap, Cold War surplus AK-47s flooded into Africa from East Europe in the 1990s. This made tribal raids a lot more deadly than when all that was used was spears and bows. Uganda's program has had mixed successes, mainly because the government did not keep pace with the rising price of weapons. As recently as four years ago an AK-47 sold for around $200, which is a lot of money in that part of Africa. Now AK-47s sell for over $700.

So the government offered competitive prices for weapons. Meanwhile, the guys with guns have turned their attention from rustling to hijacking, and convoys carrying food are being ambushed with greater frequency. The region has been suffering from a drought and more and more people are depending on outside food aid. Food is always a useful commodity, but in an area afflicted by starvation it is a precious commodity. This could be an indication of even more trouble in northeastern Uganda. So the government has increased patrols, and the troops have orders to fire on any tribesmen carrying automatic weapons (which are illegal, semiautomatic hunting rifles are OK).

 

July 24, 2008: Relations between the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) and Uganda are increasingly strained. This is a bit unexpected. Uganda was a major supporter of the SPLA (Sudan Peoples Liberation Army, which forms the core of the GOSS). Trade between Uganda and GOSS has increased. Uganda and the SPLA cooperate against the LRA. However, GOSS officials or spokesmen now issued at least three statements that the South Sudanese believe the Ugandan Army has sent troops into South Sudan and had them "masquerade" as LRA rebels. The masquerade has gotten out of hand. One of these attacks took place in early June. Another allegedly took place on June 30. The June 30 attack was a large one, involving at least 30 attackers. That would indeed be a large-scale effort for the LRA, which has withered to a hard core cadre. Another incident occurred on July 23. GOSS accused the Ugandan Army of an attack on a camp site that left ten people dead. On the same day, however, GOSS president Salva Kiir stated that the Ugandan Army had not been "expelled" from South Sudan.

July 22, 2008: The Ugandan government is playing fast and loose about peace negotiations. Uganda claims that it is "waiting on Joseph Kony" to sign the peace agreement, but if he fails to sign, it will "consult" with the Congolese and Sudanese governments about "how to deal with the LRA." If this sounds like a big stick (a war threat), well, it is.

July 16, 2008: Uganda, responding to allegations that the Ugandan Army had attacked Sudanese civilians, said that the LRA should leave South Sudan, not the Ugandan Army.

July 9, 2008: LRA holdouts accused Uganda of attacking LRA bases inside the Congo. The LRA accusation got even more complicated when an LRA spokesman accused Ugandan soldiers of impersonating Sudanese soldiers and crossing into Congo from South Sudan. Uganda denied the allegations.

July 1, 2008: South Sudan's Vice-President Riek Machar said that the Ugandan Army cannot operate in South Sudan and should leave. South Sudan had accused the Ugandan Army of killing a Sudanese citizen in a military operation in June.

June 28, 2008: The Lords Resistance Army is in tatters. The latest Ugandan military figures claim the LRA has only 600 to 700 fighters. The intelligence is based on statements by LRA defectors and former LRA prisoners (for the most part kidnapped or abducted women and children). Essentially the LRA is down to one unit: Joseph Kony's bodyguards. This used to be called a "brigade" and was named Control Altar

June 21, 2008: South Sudan's Vice-President Riek Machar has reportedly written LRA commander Joseph Kony and asked him to open "direct channels" to him so that the peace process can continue.

 

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