Arua — WEST NILE residents at the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are under tension amid growing fears of an imminent military onslaught by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, who recently shifted base to the Congo jungles.
The army has rushed its battle-tested troops from the 51st and 79th battalions from Acholiland to West Nile in readiness for full combat.
Thousands of heavily armed soldiers have stepped up foot patrols along the borderline.
War tension has gripped West Nile since the army started pouring troops in the border villages after news broke out a fortnight ago that some LRA rebels under their Deputy overall commander, Vincent Otti, had crossed from Sudan through Abaa into the wilderness of DRC's Oriental province.
In the wee hours of Sunday, all-weather battle tanks, including buffaloes and other armoured cars, left the UPDF 409 brigade headquarters on the western outskirts of Arua town. They were suspected to be heading towards the DRC.
By daybreak yesterday, thousands of Ugandan soldiers, loaded together with foodstuffs in over a-half dozen semi-trailers, passed through the town centre, raising fear among the already frightened urban dwellers. Several heavy transit trucks also left the barracks early Sunday morning.
Daily Monitor has confirmed that the Army Commander, Lt.Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, flew to Arua aboard an Eagle Air plane on Saturday afternoon to personally coordinate the increased troop movements and assess the general level of war preparedness.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that he was headed for a joint meeting with SPLA commanders in southern Sudan since the two armies have teamed up to flush out Kony from the area.
The Military and Defence Spokesman, Lt. Col. Shaban Bantariza, yesterday said West Nilers should not get frightened over the troops that have been amassed at the border because it is for their own safety.
"The wanainchi should be very vigilant, cooperate with security forces and give us all the necessary information and we shall do all that we can to protect them," he said on phone.
Bantariza attacked skeptics who are saying that government is simply hyping the LRA threat as a pretext to re-invade DRC. "That is not true. Vincent Otti (LRA Deputy commander) did not go to Congo with bic pens to write a book," he said. "The rebels, numbering fifty, went with rifles and they are a real threat."
Bantariza reaffirmed the readiness of Ugandan soldiers to re-enter the DRC under Article 51 of the United Nations if the DRC forces and Monuc (UN peace keepers) do not disarm or expel the belligerent forces.
The said article reads that: "Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of the individual or collective self-defense if any armed attack occurred against a member of the UN, until the security council has taken measure necessary to maintain international peace and security".
Bantariza said the army commander held fruitful discussions with MONUC chief, Gen. Gayi and Gen.Bauba, the operations commander of DRC forces in the Oriental province, and they agreed to act tough on LRA. "When they fail, they will let us know what alternative means to use," he said. "So we are waiting for their communication and it is not true that our soldiers have already entered Congo."
Capt. Anech Mubangizi, the UPDF Spokesman in the region, had earlier on Friday also vehemently denied reports that an advance team of the Ugandan army had already penetrated the thickets and forests of Zaramba national park - inside DRC - to hunt down the rebels who are said to be terrorising the locals and poaching on wildlife.
Meanwhile, Mr Alfred Omwony Ogaba, the area RDC on Saturday directed authorities in border sub-counties to re-invigorate their security committees.
Presiding over the homecoming ceremony for the World 3000m steeple chase champion Dorcus Inzikuru, he said this would enhance security surveillance, intelligence gathering-cum-reporting and ease mobilisation of the masses to fight banditry. "All of us feel threatened (over LRA). We demand that the UN helps DRC forces to immediately disarm the LRA because when they stay in Congo for a month, uprooting them would become difficult," Ogaba said.
The RDC, who chairs the district security committee, implored the residents to gang up and condemn the marauding insurgents and fight spiritedly if and when the rebels strike.
"We do not want rebellion by whoever to disrupt the forthcoming elections in the country," he said. "Ugandans do not deserve to die at the hands of LRA terrorists when Monuc (UN peace keepers) are just next door (in Ituri province)."
Earlier the District Chairman, Mr Richard Ferua, had warned that his people would take to street demonstrations against Monuc forces next week, if the rebels were not flushed out by then. He appealed to the international peacekeepers to use their leverage to forestall the resurgence of armed insurrection by adversaries based in their area.