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Uganda, DRC, Seek to Ease Tension After Border Clashes

  • Nick Wadhams

Tensions have flared between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo after clashes along their disputed border resulted in the death of a British oil worker and the capture of four Ugandan soldiers. Nick Wadhams has more from our East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

Relations have been strained between Congo and Uganda ever since Uganda-backed rebels that sought to overthrow the Congolese government in a 1998-2003 civil war.

The situation has only gotten worse as the two sides lay claim to an island called Rukwanzi in Lake Albert, where oil reserves are said to be high. The sides say that Britain and Belgium, which were the colonial rulers of Uganda and Congo, did not mark the border properly.

That trouble threatened to spread after Congolese forces captured four Ugandan soldiers on July 29 and the British contractor, Carl Nefdt, was killed last week on the lake. He was working for the Canadian oil company Heritage Oil. Later in the day, a Congolese soldier was killed in a gunfight between soldiers of Uganda and Congo.

Congo has denied that its soldiers were responsible for the British man's death. Lake Albert is awash with bandits and militias.

But the two sides, anxious to avoid a larger conflict, say they are working to ease any strain. They met on Rukwanzi Island on Monday and the four Ugandan soldiers, who had been accused of crossing the border illegally, were released. The four were said to have been on a routine patrol.

Uganda's army spokesman, Felix Kulayige, says more talks were held Wednesday. He says they agreed to send a joint team to determine what happened, and to try to settle the dispute over the island. They will also hold regular meetings in the future.

"There is no tension," he said. "They agreed to emphasize respect for the protocols and educating the officers and men along the borders on what these protocols are and their implications. In fact they have promised to investigate who in particular carried out the attacks and have promised to punish the culprits."

There has long been concern about the Congolese soldiers who monitor the border along Lake Albert. Last year, the army seized 30 fishermen, who later claimed that the troops tried to extort money and goods from them.

The Canadian oil company, Heritage, has suspended work on Lake Albert and Ugandan defense forces have taken over security for Heritage and a British oil company working on the lake.

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