July 6, 2014 (KAMPALA) – Heavy clashes between the Ugandan army (UPDF) and tribal militias in the western Ugandan district of Bundibugyo have left nearly 60 people dead, the army said.
- General Katumba Wamala, of the UPDF, shakes hands with a soldier during a visit to his troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), January 9, 2013. (Reuters/Tobin Jones/AU-UN IST Photo/Handout)
Lt. Ninsiima Rwemijuma, the UPDP spokesperson for Rwenzori region, told the Daily Monitor that 55 of those killed in Bundibugyo were part of the group that attacked a police station, military barracks, a bank and the resident district commissioner’s home on Saturday.
According to media reports, at least two civilians were killed in the gunfire as were two soldiers and two police officers in the western fighting occurred on Saturday evening in the town of Bundibugyo for the first time between the Ugandan troops and heavily armed rebels who overrun strategic locations in the town before they were repulsed.
The attackers are widely believed to be part of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an on/off rebel movement that has been fighting president Yoweri Museveni’s government periodically over the years.
Lt. Paddy Ankunda, the Ugandan army spokesperson expressed concerns over the nature on the weekend attack and directly questioned who could have been behind the incident.
“If ethnic militias attack an army barracks and police, what will happen when it’s their turn to seek protection?” he said.
However, he said police would investigate who was behind attacks by local militias on government forces.
The attack came barely a month after the defection of commander of the presidential special force charged with protecting Museveni. The commander and another 16 officers were said to have defected to a new rebellion to stage war against Museveni’s government.
Leaders of the main opposition parties in Uganda have recently criticized what they perceived as president Museveni’s militarised political engagements amid, warning that they were also capable of using the same army against him.
Senior defence officials also admitted what they said was growing indiscipline in the UPDF, citing unaccounted for deaths of “countless” UPDF soldiers in South Sudan, coupled with low pay in salaries and poor promotion systems as the cause for the problem.
Many MPs have also been agitating for withdrawal of Ugandan forces from the world’s youngest nation.
South Sudanese rebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar have been calling for the withdrawal of the UPDF from the new country, saying the neighbouring country should not interfere in the internal conflict which began within the country’s ruling party (SPLM).
Uganda’s former chief of intelligence, David Pulkol, last week warned his country against continued deployments of the Ugandan forces in South Sudan and taking sides in an ethnic based internal conflict, saying the mission will have ramification which Uganda will regret.
“Even if you are securing Uganda’s trade route or hunting for Kony, then you should be where Kony is. What was the UPDF doing in Bentiu and Malakal?” he said.
“In the process of trying to resolve a problem, we could be actually creating a bigger problem for ourselves,” he added.