JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Two South Sudanese soldiers and two Ugandan soldiers have been killed in a clash near the two countries’ border, a South Sudanese army spokesman said.
Major General Lul Ruai Koang, spokesman for the South Sudan People’s Defense Force, says a mechanized, heavily armed unit of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces made what he called a “major incursion” Tuesday into South Sudanese territory.
“That unit launched a surprise attack on our defensive border post at Pogee, in Magwi County, in Eastern Equatoria state. Our forces were engaged in a gunbattle that got four killed – two from our side and two from the side of the UPDF,” Koang told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
Koang said the Ugandan forces also captured a South Sudanese soldier.
Speaking by phone to South Sudan in Focus from Uganda’s Lwengo district on Wednesday, Ugandan deputy defense spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Deo Akiiki acknowledged that UPDF soldiers had killed two people, but insisted the incident occurred inside Uganda and that the two deceased could not be identified.
“There are some unknown armed people who erected a roadblock inside Uganda on our border with South Sudan. We sent there our patriots to crosscheck who these people could be, only to be returned with fire,” Akiiki told VOA.
He said a small force was sent to the area and subdued the armed people after an exchange of gunfire.
Akiiki denied Ugandan soldiers had been killed in the skirmish, but confirmed Ugandan soldiers captured one person and recovered two machine guns.
South Sudan’s Koang said that following the brief incursion, the UPDF withdrew to Uganda and the SSPDF took full control of Pogee. He said Uganda had agreed to return the bodies of the two South Sudanese killed in the incident.
“The top leadership of SSPDF general headquarters established contact with UPDF to hand over the remains of our fallen servicemen. You know, when they briefly overran Pogee, they collected the remains of the fallen comrades as well as the rifles, and they took them across the border. After we established contact with them, they promised that the remains will be handed over to us on the 29th of October so they are given a decent burial back home here,” said Koang.
In a WhatsApp message to South Sudan in Focus following his interview with the VOA program, Akiiki said the UPDF had evacuated both bodies and the captured person had been taken to Uganda’s 4th Division army barracks in Gulu.
He said both countries would investigate the incident with a view toward preventing further confrontations.
In June, similar clashes occurred between Uganda and South Sudan in a disputed border area inside South Sudan’s Kajokeji County of Central Equatoria state. Four SSPDF soldiers were killed in that incident.
Koang said Ugandan soldiers who cross into South Sudanese territory are to blame for the repeated clashes, but Akiiki saw things differently.
“We suspect there are still some armed groups within these areas of South Sudan, and I think why they do this is for survival purposes," Akiiki told VOA. He said the groups had not given up their arms and they set roadblocks in order to halt trucks and take the goods being transported.
In the past, Ugandan and South Sudanese military leaders secured the South Sudan-Uganda border together, according to Akiiki. He said the two countries needed to work together again, including sharing intelligence and conducting joint patrols to secure the border.
According to Koang, the two countries should demarcate the border using existing colonial maps in order to prevent more such clashes.