Juba. A military confrontation over a disputed border area between South Sudan and Uganda has reportedly left two South Sudanese soldiers killed by Uganda’s People Defence Forces (UPDF).
According to South Sudan People’s Defense Forces, on Tuesday, UPDF reportedly launched an attack on an army post it claims is situated within South Sudan, leading to the killing of its soldiers around Pogee area, Magwi County of Eastern Equatoria state.
But the Ugandan army insists that it opened fire on South Sudanese military officers who tried to encroach into its territory by placing a border post at an area located two kilometres from Ngomoromo border in Lokung Sub-County.
In June this year, a similar incident occurred around Fitina-Mbaya, also called Buya, a contested part of Kajo-keji County in Central Equatoria state.
Four SSPDF soldiers and one National Police Service officer were shot and killed by the UPDF.
Speaking to the Nation on Thursday, South Sudan’s army spokesman, Gen Lul Ruai, confirmed the killing of its officers by UPDF around Pogee area of Magwi County.
“A unit of the Ugandan Army armed with heavy artillery pieces and a light military truck launched an attack on the South Sudan Army defensive border outpost in the area. The brief exchange of fire reportedly led to death on both sides.
“In those exchanges, one SSPDF soldier has been taken prisoner, while the bodies of those killed are in the custody of the UPDF,” said Lul.
In response, UPDF army deputy spokesman Lt-Col Deo Akiiki Asiimwe confirmed the clashes that led to the killing of two South Sudanese army combatants and said the issue is being handled diplomatically by higher political institutions.
“Initially, the soldiers were erecting a roadblock which was assumed to be two kilometers inside Uganda. The reaction of forces who went to verify occurrence resulted in the clashes.
“I think diplomatically, our leaders have held a meeting and we shall continue to work together to ensure that there is understanding along our borders and such clashes should not divert us from the bigger picture of the security of our borders,” said Akiiki.
Akiiki, however, claims that the bodies of two killed South Sudanese army men together with their weapons were handed over to South Sudan’s local army authorities in Magwi County, Central Equatoria state. The statement contradicts what South Sudan’s People Defence Forces Military Headquarters said earlier that the bodies of its soldiers were missing.
Call for dialogue
Savior Lazarus, a South Sudanese civil society activist based in Western Equatoria state, called on South Sudan and Uganda authorities to quickly address the looming dispute over the contested border area.
Savior, who heads Support Peace Initiative Development Organisation -- a peace advocacy organisation -- said the area seems to be rich with natural resources such as timber and minerals, among others, which might have triggered the conflict.
“When you look at most of these land disputes happening around the border, there seems to be huge competition over local resources.''
In November 2018, the Ugandan Army gave a deadline to South Sudanese soldiers, who it claimed crossed into Uganda, to leave Lamwo district or face dire consequences.
The Ugandan Army alleged that some 30 Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers had invaded Ngomoromo Village in Lokung sub-county inside Uganda in October.
It claimed that the then Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers had established a barrier six kilometres into Ugandan territory and hoisted their national flag.
But after various talks between the two countries, they both named a joint committee made up of 26 members to resolve the dispute after cross-border talks in mid-January held in Uganda’s northern district of Lamwo.
According to the then governor of the defunct Torit state in Eastern Equatoria, Tobiolo Alberio Oromo, the committee was tasked with demarcating the border between Uganda and South Sudan.
But little has materialised regarding the committee’s work, according to observers.
Uganda supported South Sudan’s government during its recent five-year civil war and helped to broker a fragile peace. Uganda also has been accused by watchdogs of supplying South Sudan’s military in violation of arms embargoes. Uganda has denied it.