Last Friday, gunmen suspected to be members of Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In-Opposition (SPLA-IO), a rebel group operating in South Sudan, attacked civilians in the Uganda- South Sudan border district of Moyo. A clinical officer and a boda boda cyclist – a Ugandan and a South Sudan national – were beheaded. Two others sustained serious injuries.
Police confirmed that this incident happened about three kilometres inside Ugandan territory, which raises questions about the continued attacks on civilians in Uganda by armed elements from South Sudan. In recent times, these incidents have included attacks on South Sudanese who have sought sanctuary in refugee camps in Uganda.
The Uganda-South Sudan border has for long registered sporadic attacks but this has worsened in recent times following the 2013 war between president Salva Kiir and SPLA-IO rebels led by Dr Riek Machar. The border stretch from Kaya to Jale areas, being under the control of SPLA-IO, poses a security vacuum because the government of South Sudan does not monitor the area.
Although the SPLA-IO deputy spokesperson, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, blamed the incident on South Sudan government forces, the responsibility of safeguarding civilians in the volatile territory lies in the hands of both the government of South Sudan and the SPLA-IO who man the border area.
If these attacks pass unchecked, we may soon have a bigger security problem on both sides of the border.
Just last week, Ugandan security forces in Koboko, a district bordering South Sudan, arrested a South Sudanese army colonel on allegation of recruiting youths in the West Nile district into rebel ranks. Col John Data Taban told Uganda police that they run an extensive recruitment ring in both Uganda and South Sudan.
While the Uganda People’s Defence Force spokesman, Brig Richard Karemire, denied there was any widespread rebel recruitment network in the country, and it is not clear how many youth have been drafted into the SPLA-IO activities, the West Nile police spokesperson, Ms Josephine Angucia, said some of the youth who returned from South Sudan said Col Data had promised them cash and jobs, but they ended up in the rebel camps.
These security concerns and the reported wave of mysterious disappearance of refugees in urban centres should compel both Uganda and South Sudan government to join forces and rein in the rogue elements terrorising civilians in border areas.