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Fear as Ugandan soldiers disappear with army uniforms


Uganda Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala. He has said that an unknown number of the country's veteran soldiers returning from service in Somalia have run away with uniforms, raising fear in military circles that the combat fatigues could be misused. FILE | NATION MEDI AGROUP 


Africa Review
Sunday, June 23, 2013

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An unknown number of Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) veterans returning from service in Somalia have run away with uniforms, raising fear in military circles that the combat fatigues could be misused.

According to the new Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, a manhunt is underway for these soldiers, who fall under Reserve Forces, because their whereabouts remain unknown.

“Some of them have left the concentration area with uniforms; we want those uniforms back because they may misuse those uniforms,” Uganda Radio Network, a local online newswire agency, quoted the army boss as having said.

The veterans are part of those recalled to duty and deployed to Somalia under the aegis of the ongoing African Union Peace-keeping Mission (Amisom) as Uganda’s 12th battle group contingent, otherwise called UGABAG 12, to confront the Al-Shabaab.

Gen Wamala added: “We call upon you (masses) to locate them, we need those uniforms, they are not supposed to have those uniforms. They can have some of the insignia like their medals of African Union, they have their scarfs of AU and some of those they can have but not a full military uniform.”

It was not clear what the army leadership fears are. There is, however, the possibility that rogue soldiers could use the military fatigues to execute robberies, if not hire or sell them to outlaws, including rebels and or al-Shabaab fighters.

Some elements in Uganda’s myriad security agencies have previously been implicated in or convicted by court for hiring guns to robbers, and turning to share the booty.

Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the military spokesman, yesterday denied any Reserve Force member made away with army property.

“All the combat uniforms they used are with us, he said, “There is no such a thing as veterans running away [with uniforms].”

When this newspaper shared the audio clip of the general’s account with the Spokesman, he did not respond to us.

Plea

The soldiers had been mobilised through their command structures, which should make it possible to trace those wanted up to their villages. Instead, Gen Wamala has turned to the masses to volunteer information on the whereabouts of the ex-servicemen who took more than the desert boots and AU insignia and scarfs they were authorised to own.

“They can have the white boots, there are some boots that we give them when they go to Somalia, they are kind of desert boots. Those ones they can have. But they should not have the military uniform because then they may misuse it,” he noted.

On official retirement, soldiers are expected to surrender military weapons and other such property in their possession, and are offered ceremonial uniforms for use during national functions.

The UPDF, and particularly its elite Special Forces, has been rocked by desertions with at least 400 fleeing, some of them with loaded guns. When Daily Monitor newspaper broke the story in April, the army announced it had re-captured 100 of the deserters but provided no details.

In a lengthy investigation, the Daily Monitor established that the unprecedented wave of desertions from the SFC, whose soldiers are famously proud of their unit, was linked to work details they had been asked to carry out. Last August, SFC units were deployed from Mityana District to work on President Museveni’s Kisozi Ranch in Mpigi District.

The first batch was made up of 120 soldiers from “A” Company. They were later replaced by another unit, which was withdrawn in late March.



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