By Polycap Kalokwera
Hundreds of trucks yesterday snaked their way through the dreaded Juba-Nimule routes after 16 days of a sit-down strike by its drivers.
Sources at Elegu border say Uganda Revenue Authority officials and those from the migration department started clearing trucks by dawn and by midday, more than 200 trucks had crossed to South Sudan.
The move followed assurances by the South Sudan government that it would deploy both military and police on the highway to provide security for the trucks.
On Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Sudan wrote to both Uganda and Kenya embassies in Juba, communicating that government had made a commitment for the security and safety of all truck drivers and their merchandise.
In a June 9 letter addressed to both embassies in Juba, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the South Sudan government was committed to guaranteeing security and safety of truck drivers on Juba-Nimule road.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan presents its compliments to the Embassy of Republic of Uganda in Juba and has the honour to inform the later that the government of the Republic of South Sudan is committed to providing the security and safety to truck drivers on Juba-Nimule road as follows; The escort will be provided by the South Sudan People's Defence Force and South Sudan National Police Service, the obstacles that cause delay in the highway to Juba will be removed," the letter in part reads.
The letter added that it is not a one off gesture but a long-term investment to ensure smooth flow of business among neighbouring states.
"The government is committed to sustain these safety measures and advise all the road users to adhere to government escort directives...," the letter stated.
However, sources at Elegu told this newspaper that the drivers had refused to cross the borders, fearing that the communication was just a move to dupe them into delivering goods when their security is not guaranteed.
The source said UPDF soldiers fired bullets in the air, forcing the drivers to cross the border point.
One driver, who reluctantly crossed, said this is not the first time the government of South Sudan is making promises without enforcement.
"We are being forced by our own soldiers and we may end up dying in South Sudan. We want assurance that we shall be safe when we cross there," he said.
The chairperson of the truck drivers, Mr Asadu Sentongo, confirmed the forced crossover.
He said following the communication, the truck drivers wanted to first witness the deployment before embarking on the journey, but were not given time to do that.
"We got this letter yesterday (Monday) but we were not convinced, so drivers first wanted to wait. However, our soldiers deployed here at Elegu and are forcing drivers to move across. Already very many trucks, more than 200 have crossed," he said.
"My only prayer is that this time the government implements its promises and ensures that our drivers are safe," he added.
While we were unable to verify this with the UPDF 4th Division leadership in Gulu, Mr Geoffrey Osborn Oceng, the Amuru Resident District Commissioner, who has been chairing the negotiations between the truck drivers and the government of South Sudan, said they have cleared more than 600 trucks en-route to Juba, adding that bullets fired in the air was meant to quell the tense situation.
"There were other trucks drivers who were blocking their colleagues from going to South Sudan yet the strike had been called off, so the teargas that was fired was only meant to control the situation," Mr Oceng said.
He added: "There are more than 3,000 trucks at Elegu border point and since we are clearing 600 in a day, it will take us four days to clear all trucks at the border as we wait for those coming from Busia and Malaba."
Mr Oceng urged the government of South Sudan to adhere to their promises, adding that undermining the truckers is what has caused the strikes.
"There are issues which were raised by the truckers and the government of South Sudan didn't respond to, for instance, compensation. As the chair, I will get the details of the 75 persons alleged to have been killed in South Sudan and deliver it to Juba as agreed from the meeting," Mr Oceng said.