MOYO – Gunmen suspected to be members of the South Sudan Liberation Army (SPLA) on Tuesday raided Bari Village in Metu sub-county, Moyo district, and disappeared with more than 180 heads of cattle.
The gunmen that attacked the place at dawn on Tuesday, also abducted 13 South Sudanese refugees and drove them back to South Sudan, along with the cattle.
The raid has sparked off fears among the locals, reminding them of past experiences where they had to endure torrid times at the hands of South Sudan soldiers who, on many occasions, strayed in and abducted locals.
Michael Kanyara, one of the affected residents, says the gunmen selected healthy animals belonging to both refugees from South Sudan and the locals and drove them across the border.
Bari village has many South Sudanese refugees who have moved across the border and settled among the locals without formally registering with the government authorities.
“We were caught by surprise by the soldiers dressed in SPLA uniforms who ordered us to surrender all our healthy animals to them. We are not sure whether we shall recover our animals,” Kanyara narrates.
Lt Ahmad Hassan Kato, the spokesperson of the 4th Division of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), who is based in Gulu district, confirmed the raid. He added that the army and other security agencies are already pursuing the raiders.
“It is true that South Sudan security operatives in government have crossed into Uganda and moved back with cattle, but the details will be availed later. Security forces are already on the ground to follow up the matter,” Lt Kato said.
The Moyo district secretary for security and refugee affairs, Sam Asusi, who also confirmed the incident, told The Observer that he got a call from the LCI chairpers
According to Asusi, the gunmen asked the residents to show them their Ugandan national identity cards, and then they took all those who didn’t have IDs because they assumed that they were South Sudan refugees.
Asusi appealed to the residents to remain calm as security forces follow up the matter. He said both the army and the police have been deployed to follow the raiders.
“They will tell us what they have found, but let us wait for the details and will update you,” he said.
The South Sudanese Ambassador to Uganda Samuel Luate, when contacted, said he couldn’t explain what happened because he was going for a very important meeting. He promised to get back to this reporter, but he had not called back by the time we went to press.
Moyo residents and armed South Sudanese have had a string of frosty relationships in the past. In April this year, five gunmen abducted people at Afoji market in Moyo district. However, few days later, two of the suspects were arrested by locals when they resurfaced in the same market.
In the same month, two unknown gunmen suspected to be from across the borders shot dead Chaplain Wani, a 79-year-old refugee in Belemeling refugee settlement camp in Moyo district.
For years now, residents in the district have also borne the brunt of the South Sudanese armed forces, who claim several miles of land in the district, saying it belongs to the South Sudan government.
The latest attack comes as Uganda is hosting the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees, which runs from June 22 to 23, 2017. The summit is being attended by, among others, the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.