A border dispute between Uganda and DR Congo is again brewing in the frontier town of Padea, West Nile Sub-region after Congolese locals backed by their police crossed into Uganda and laid claim to three villages deep inside Uganda.
The villages being claimed by the Congolese are Acu Cell, in Jupadindu Ward of Padea Town Council; Acu Village in Asina Parish Abanga Sub-county and Oyaro Village in Asina Parish — all in Zombo District.
Such incursions by Congolese security personnel into Uganda have been a constant cause for concern in parts of West Nile. They have also become a source of insecurity, which undermines cross-border trade between the two countries.
Area Resident District Commissioner, Lt Col (rtd) Pius Alitema, told the journalist that his office has scheduled a meeting with Congolese security from Mahagi Territory as part of interim efforts to calm the situation.
He also revealed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala has been briefed about the unfolding situation, and reportedly plans to take up the matter at a higher level.
Lt Col Alitema called for respect of the international boundary, warning that any violation creates insecurity.
“We must engage our local authorities operating at the border to respect the national boundary and also maintain peace and security to promote trade and commerce. Our people should be at peace because these people all speak the same language and inter-marry. So, there is no point of rivalry,” he said.
At the weekend, a group of suspected Congolese nationals entered the Ugandan side of the border.
Backed by Congolese police from Mahagi Territory, they then set about erecting a barricade on the Padea-Congo road.
A similar incident happened five years ago in nearby Asina when the Congolese again attempted to unilaterally extend the international border two kilometres inside Uganda.
There was a souring of relations between communities on either side of the border until Uganda’s army moved in and opened up the barricaded areas.
A local leader, Mr Benjamin Ocirwoth, said Ugandans in the affected border area are living in fear of being attacked by Congolese.
Mr Ocirwoth said the locals are being stopped by Congolese from accessing their farmland.
“We are not at peace because anytime we can be attacked by Congolese. If the matter is not taken seriously at the national level, the disagreement will continue to affect both business and studies of our children,” he said.
Mr Wilfred Jakwonga, a businessman in Padea, said the border dispute is now affecting trade.
“We cannot trade freely ever since the Congolese created a barrier inside the Ugandan side and our people are being threatened,” Mr Jakwonga said.
The chairperson of Zombo District, Mr Benson Oyulu, told Daily Monitor that a lasting solution to the on-off border dispute should be found through national-level meetings.
“The issue of national boundaries cannot be handled by the locals. It needs the higher authorities from both sides since it is a cause of insecurity to both parties,” Mr Oyulu said.
The Deputy Territorial Administrator for Mahagi District in DR Congo, Col Claude Ntumba, said they will hold dialogue with Ugandan authorities to resolve any conflict.
“We should all have respect for each other at the border areas and people should avoid establishing unnecessary checkpoints to extort money from people,” he said.
We have learnt that an unnamed Congolese clan chief is behind the latest attempt to establish an illegal customs point inside Uganda so as to extort money from traders.
In June 2009, Congolese policemen put up an illegal police post at Agyero, two kilometres near River Nyibola at Goli customs on the Uganda border. The post has remained in place after an agreement was reportedly reached by authorities on either side of the border.
More than 15 kilometres of the border is constituted by a road (right from Amwonyo behind Got-Agu through villages of Openju, Simu, Asina, Angenja, Akwerali, Kakra, Acu, Pamitu and Asina parishes in Abanga Sub-county).
The border also runs from Acu, Ajigu, and Jupucama to Awasi in Jangokoro Sub-county, stretching all the way to Athuma, Zeu, Alangi then Kango sub-counties.
Out of the 13 sub-counties of Zombo, nine of them share borders with DR Congo. And there are 75 villages that share borders with DR Congo.
West Nile border woes
In November 2007, DR Congo soldiers arrested two surveyors of Heritage Oil and a guard from Saracen Security Company after they reportedly lost their way and wandered 200 metres inside Kolokoto in Congo.
In May 2008, Congolese authorities erected a barrier at River Ofo, 300 metres inside Uganda in Vurra, Arua District. The standoff was resolved by Presidents Museveni and Joseph Kabila, through dialogue.
In June 2009, Congolese policemen built a police post at Agyero located two kilometres on River Nyibola at Goli customs on the Uganda border.
In August 2009. Armed Sudanese attacked and stop the MTN construction work at Jale in Moyo District.
In September 2009. Seven SPLA soldiers attack farmers in Gwerewan Village in Lefori, claiming the land belonged to South Sudan.
On August 23, 2010, firing bullets in the air, three Congolese soldiers attacked traders at Kampala Market in Logiri Sub-county in Vurra County, Arua District. They were chasing Ugandans who had allegedly crossed into DR Congo whom they accused of tax evasion. More than 50 people were injured.
In November 2010. SPLA soldiers arrest 13 farmers from Lefori and took them hostage, accusing them of encroaching on South Sudanese land.
In March 2012. Nine Ugandan MPs were held hostage by SPLA soldiers in Lefori as they went on a monitoring exercise on the disputed land.