Continued attacks by rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has prompted deployment by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) along the Uganda-DR Congo border to guard against escalation of incursions.
The Deputy UPDF spokesperson, Lt Col Deo Akiiki, said they have recruited Local Defence Unit militia to secure villages near or along the border against rebel attacks.
“We have deployed LDUs to guard the villages but also to help us give intelligence on what is happening in those villages,” Lt Col Akiiki told Daily Monitor at the weekend.
The UPDF also has Alpine Brigade based in the Rwenzori Mountains, a specialised and French-trained unit that carries out reconnaissance over the mountain area.
The ADF continues to regroup in the jungles of eastern DR Congo despite various military offensives against them by different forces over the years.
Intelligence sources say the ADF are currently commanded by Seka Baluku, a native of Kasese District, following the arrest and extradition of their leader Jamil Mukulu, who is facing trial on charges of murder and terrorism.
The intelligence sources say the ADF rebels are recruiting youth across the border.
The Minister of Defence, Mr Adolf Mwesige, said there are ongoing engagements under the International Conference of the Great Lakes region to eliminate hostile militias or armed dissidents in eastern DR Congo.
“We even have agreements now that in case there is a problem, Uganda can be called upon to intervene and assist to flash out these negative forces,” Mr Mwesige said.
Sources across the Uganda-DR Congo border told Daily Monitor during field visits that ADF rebels are recruiting fighters from Uganda and neighbouring Tanzania.
“The Tanzanians are lured into Uganda after being promised jobs in Kampala. However, on arrival, these people are put on buses and directed to meet key contacts at the border points,” one of the sources said.
The key border points where new recruits are received are Bunagana in Kisoro District, Mpondwe in Kasese and Busunga in Bundibugyo.
These security sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said every month at least a recruit destined for DR Congo is arrested at any of the three key border points.
Daily Monitor was told that ADF main potential recruitment targets are hawkers commonly known as batembeyi.
The hawkers are targeted by ADF recruitment agents based in Kampala. The recruits are mainly youth aged 25 or below.
They are put on buses mostly on Monday and Thursday nights and reach Mpondwe border in the morning of Tuesday or Friday, which are market days and there is less restricted movement across the border.
Security sources said some recruits travel innocently in anticipation of jobs in DR Congo but others are fully aware they are joining a rebel group.
The sources say the recruits usually carry with them telephone numbers of their Congolese contacts who receive them either in Lubiriha or Kasindi border towns on the DRC side.
A few months ago, intelligence personnel at Mpondwe trailed suspected recruits across the border and arrested a man suspected to be a chief recruitment officer for ADF.
This man, whose particulars the sources declined to reveal, was arrested by security agents in an ambush between Lubiriha and Kasindi towns.
“Our colleagues silently trailed these suspicious young men after interrogating them at the border and made them call their contact person across the border. This was a big fish -- the chief recruitment officer,” the intelligence source said.
In September last year, Mr Abdul Razak Kalemire, a traditional leader of Banandi in Basu region, was arrested at Mpondwe border as he tried to cross back into Congo after a personal errand in Kampala.
He has since been held without trial. The former police spokesperson, Ms Polly Namaye, told Daily Monitor at that time that Mr Kalemire was arrested for alleged involvement in subversive activities across the border. He was detained at Nalufenya detention centre but his current whereabouts are unknown after the Jinja-based dreaded detention centre was closed.
An intelligence agent who witnessed the arrest, said Mr Kalemire is suspected to be among the key local (DRC) funders of the ADF.
The source claimed they had left him to freely cross into Uganda but had his activities in Kampala monitored and when he returned, he was arrested at the border.
Mr Kalemire’s close relative, Mr Robert Briens Lhubangu Lukumbuka, was also arrested in Kampala early this year. He is still in detention without trial.
Mr Lukumbuka has tried thrice to join the Ugandan Parliament on Democratic Party ticket but failed.
He first contested for Busongora South MP in 2011 and lost. He contested for Western Youth MP seat but lost to Mr Gerald Karuhanga [now Ntungamo Municipality MP].
In 2016, he contested again Kasese Municipality parliamentary seat on DP ticket, but lost to Mr Robert Centenary.
For decades, eastern DR Congo has been a rear safe haven for many armed groups fighting neighbouring countries especially Uganda and Rwanda.The ADF first invaded Uganda from eastern DR Congo and attacked Mpondwe border in 1996. In the subsequent years Ugandan troops entered DR Congo in pursuit of ADF rebels but the mission escalated into full scale conflict between Uganda and the Kinshasa government, sucking in several African countries on either side of the war.
Uganda and Rwanda have in the past sent troops to DR Congo ostensibly to fight ADF and Democratic Forces for Liberation of Rwanda (FDRL) rebels which use eastern Congo territory as their base to launch cross-border attacks into the two neighbouring countries. The ADF rebels have used the vast and forested eastern Congo to train, arm and carry out attacks on civilians, international peacekeepers and other targets inside Congolese territory and across the border into Uganda.
However, besides ADF, Congolese militias such as Mai Mai have caused mayhem in eastern Congo over the years. In 2012, DR Congo government was put under pressure by the International Conference of the Great Lakes Regio to push all the negative forces out.
In response, on January 16, 2014, Congolese troops launched Operation Sukola 1 and smoked ADF out of their camps. However, ADF remnants are still active in eastern DR Congo.
Early April in 2014, according to a UN intelligence report released that year, ADF rebels had split into two groups because of pressure from government forces. But they continue to attack and kill civilians in Beni and North Kivu regions. According to the Human Rights Watch report released in October this year, more than 1,000 people have been killed in a series of ADF attacks in the last four years.