September 11, 2013 (KAMPALA) - Ugandan legislators on Tuesday called for the expulsion of South Sudanese nationals in Uganda in retaliation for what they say is the harassment and in some cases murder of Ugandan nationals in South Sudan.
However, the Ugandan government quickly dismissed the suggestion, saying the matter has already been discussed between the two countries.
Gilbert Olanya, the legislator who brought the matter before Uganda’s parliament, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday that he was saddened after meeting some 200 commercial motorcycle riders who had been expelled from South Sudan.
“I met them on Sunday. They said they were from Jonglei and Eastern Equataria. They told me of how they had been harassed and tortured in South Sudan, so I decided to raise it in parliament as a matter of national concern”, Olanya said.
“We demand that the Ugandan government takes steps to protect Ugandans in South Sudan who are being harassed and killed with impunity”, he added.
South Sudan’s interior ministry issued an order in August banning foreigners from operating motorcycle taxis, commonly known as boda-boda.
About 1,600 Ugandans working in South Sudan as commercial rivers were affected by the decision.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune on Wednesday, Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said in an interview that Uganda had already raised its concerns about the treatment of Ugandan nationals to the South Sudanese government.
“We have condemned the harassment of Ugandans in South Sudan through the South Sudan embassy here and through our high commission in Juba. South Sudan has an established legal system. They should use that system to charge any Ugandan that they think has violated their laws”, he said.
Despite its concerns, Opondo said that the government did not agree with the position of MPs calling on Uganda to retaliate against South Sudan.
“We don’t agree with our MPs that Uganda should retaliate. The Ugandan government is in bilateral talks with South Sudan on the issue. The two presidents [Yoweri Museveni and Salva Kiir] have also discussed it”, he said.
Opondo called on the South Sudanese government to extend the period given to Ugandans to leave the country.
“South Sudan should extend the deadline given and guarantee safe passage for the Ugandans to get back home”, he said.
Earlier this month, the Ugandan police announced that it had alerted its units in the country to provide “extra security” to South Sudanese nationals following reports of planned attacks against them by Ugandans unhappy with South Sudan’s treatment.
The police say they have not recorded any cases of attacks against South Sudanese living in the country.
More than 1,000 expelled Ugandans have since arrived back home, making the 600kms journey from Juba to Kampala on their motorcycles.
To further compound their problems, their motorcycles are impounded up on their arrival by Uganda’s tax body - the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) – until they pay any outstanding taxes and register their motorcycles.
The MPs say the government should give the drivers a three-month grace period, giving them an opportunity to clear their taxes considering the abrupt manner in which they were expelled from South Sudan.