Uganda: Fishers Accuse Ugandan Soldiers of Harassment As 18 Arrested

A group of fishermen in Bondo, Siaya County, on Friday night arrested a Ugandan official who was part of a security team patrolling Lake Victoria.

The man, who was dressed in the Uganda People’s Defence Force uniform had been placed in-charge of fishermen who were under arrest after their boat was seized by the soldiers.

But the fishermen pounced on the man who was armed with a knife and overpowered him before they disappeared in the dark towards Honge Beach.

Read: 12 Kenyan fishermen held in Uganda charged in court

They later handed him to police in Bondo. The suspect is accused of working with Ugandan security officers to harass Kenyan fishermen in Lake Victoria.

Eighteen fishermen were arrested and six boats impounded by the Ugandan security personnel during the Friday night incident.

The suspect is reported to have been the coxswain of the Ugandan operation boat that was patrolling the lake.

According to Honge Beach Management Unit (BMU) chairman Elly Odhiambo, the local fishermen were intercepted past Mageta Island before the four officers ordered them to disembark from their vessels and board the Ugandan boat.

“Two of the officers were armed with AK47 rifles and took charge of each of the boats as they sailed towards Hama direction on the Ugandan side,” said Mr Odhiambo.

In the ensuing confrontation, the Ugandan boat was left behind as the coxswain tried to join his colleagues.

“On realising that the man was only armed with a knife, the fishermen overpowered him before sailing towards Honge Beach in Bondo Sub County,” he said.

Read: Kenyan fishermen suffer in the hands of Ugandan soldiers

The suspect identified as Mgambe Ismael was saved from the angry mob baying for his blood by officers from Usenge Police Station where he is detained.

The mob, however, descended on the Ugandan and destroyed his boat.

Bondo deputy county commissioner Richard Karani said Kenyan authorities are working with their counterparts in Uganda to secure the release of 18 fishermen and six boats.

“The suspect confirmed to us that he is a civilian and we have communicated with security agencies on the other side to secure the release of our people,” he said.

Mr Karani said that the two sides will meet at Port Victoria beach in Busia today to have the Kenyans and the boats released while the suspect will be handed over to the Ugandan authorities.

A police report noted that the four Ugandans were not on any official duty. And that two officers gave civilians their uniforms to extort money from Kenyan fishermen over alleged trespass.

Mr Raphael Otieno, the BMU chair of Agulu in Imbo West, called on the government to enhance security patrols in the region saying that cases of harassment have been on the rise.

“The Ugandan authorities normally subject Kenyan fishermen to hard labour, confiscate our fishing gear and demand from Sh30,000 to Sh40,000 to free our vessels,” he said.

He pointed out that over 50 boats from various beaches are still being held by Ugandan police.

“The government should return the quick response team to safeguard fishing activities. It is unfortunate that Ugandan security officers are taking advantage of the situation to harass and intimidate us,” he said.

Read: Uganda police ‘make us eat raw fish’

Despite the government deploying troops of coast guards to man Lake Victoria in 2019, fishermen from Siaya County lament that they continue to suffer in the hands of rogue Ugandan soldiers.

Cases of harassment, which have been a concern for fishermen, heightened as Kenya and Uganda fought over the control of Migingo Island.

Siaya county commissioner Mohammed Barre and Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda last week held a security meeting with fishermen in efforts to end the vice that continues to strain the relations between the two countries.

vraballa@ke.nationmedia.com

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