Tensions are escalating between Uganda and neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo after four Ugandan policemen were killed last weekend by suspected DRC soldiers during a Lake Albert border fishing patrol, IndependentOnline reported.
Tensions have risen between security forces along the lake in recent years, with each side detaining soldiers and security officers from the other, AFP reported, according to TimesLive.
The policemen were responding to a report of Congolese fishing illegally in Ugandan waters when four were shot by armed men thought to be soldiers from the DRC, according to IOL.
This is one of several violent attacks allegedly carried out by Congolese nationals in disputed areas on Lake Albert despite the 2007 Ngurdoto Agreement, which was signed by the neighboring countries to resolve such issues in a peaceful manner.
But it’s the first fatal exchange between Uganda and DRC security officers on Lake Albert over fishing grounds, according to a report in The Monitor. The two countries’ borders on Lake Albert are not clearly marked.
“A repeat of these incidents may compel the Uganda authorities to take self-defense measures to protect its citizens,” a Ugandan spokesman said.
Lake Albert is Africa’s seventh largest lake, measuring 160 kilometers by 30 kilometers. Major oil reserves have been found in the lake’s basin, and estimates suggest it could be the largest onshore oil field in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Lakepedia.
The suspected Congolese soldiers took the bodies of the dead Ugandan policemen to Bunia General Hospital in Eastern DRC, and also seized Ugandan weapons and a speedboat.
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Uganda has demanded that DRC return the bodies, compensate the families, bring the suspects to justice and return the equipment.
Recently, 20 armed Congolese soldiers who crossed into Ugandan waters were detained by Ugandan fishermen, then later released.
Uganda has blamed DRC troops for the most recent killings, AFP reported, according to TimesLive.
“The four police officers were on official duty on Lake Albert within the territorial sphere of Uganda,” Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem said. “They were killed in line of duty and their bodies were taken by the DRC authorities.”
DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP there had been “exchanges of fire” between the “forces of two friendly countries” and that they regretted the incident.
“Four marine officers were sent to the scene to verify and enforce the law. Unfortunately, the Congolese were tipped off and they alerted their army before our officers reached the area,” said Denis Namuwoza, Rwenzori Region police commander, according to The Monitor. “The DRC army ambushed our officers and shot them without any warning.”
In 2013, Congolese soldiers arrested five Ugandan officers, tortured and detained them in DRC for nine months. They were only released after President Yoweri Museveni intervened during a visit to Kinshasa.
A joint investigation commission had been established to determine exactly what happened.