Uganda and South Sudan last weekend agreed to joint police patrols along the Gulu-Juba highway as part of the measures to ensure the free movement of people and goods between the two countries and in a bid to beef up security.
The agreement followed a visit by Uganda's Inspector General of Police, Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura, to Juba last Friday where he held a series of meetings with the South Sudan President Salva Kiir, as well as his counterpart, Gen. Acuil Tito Madut.
There have been heightened tensions between the two neighbours following complaints by Ugandan traders who accuse the South Sudan security forces of harassment, extortion and unjustified arrests.
Traders, particularly truck drivers from Uganda and Kenya, recently staged a strike during which they blocked the highway for three days until Kayihura met them.
President Kiir in his meeting with Kayihura reportedly reiterated his government's commitment to resolve the matter so as to facilitate free movement and trade between the two countries.
Madut and Kayihura later travelled to Nimule and Elegu border posts and allegedly dismantled “illegal check points” along the highway. They also addressed a rally at Elegu in Uganda and Nimule in South Sudan.
Madut said that he had dismantled illegal check points at the Aru and Magwi junctions, Ashwa Bridge, Nimule Payam traffic offices and the Nimule entrance.
He added that an official at the Aru junction, notorious for extorting money from traders, had been arrested.
Madut acknowledged that there were incidents in which Ugandans had been mistreated in South Sudan, but said it was not planned, adding that they were the actions of thugs.
Madut said traders would not be asked to pay exit visa fees because they are illegal.
Kayihura also said that he had disbanded the Police check points at Kafu bridge and Karuma, saying they were an unnecessary inconvenience.
He argued that some of the incidents committed against Ugandans were masterminded by external forces aimed at driving a rift between the two countries.
The two Police chiefs named leaders of the joint monitoring teams.
The South Sudan team is headed by Col. Azuma Mangar Chep reinforced by Col. Makuac Chawul, who will be in charge of highway patrol.
The Ugandan team is led by police Chief Asuman Mugenyi assisted by Stephen Odongkara, the officer in charge of highway patrol.
Johnson Kilama, the Northern Regional Police PRO confirmed that the two teams will be responsible for monitoring security in the Nimule-Juba area in South Sudan and the Gulu- Nimule sector in Uganda.
He also cautioned Ugandan nationals who are in South Sudan to be law abiding and avoid any confrontation with the authorities in South Sudan so as to avoid tensions.
Meanwhile, Kilama expressed fear that with the booming trade in South Sudan, Juba Highway is becoming a route for illicit drug trafficking in the country.
According to him, border markets such as Elegu in Atiak Sub County, in Amuru district has become an open market for the trading of substances such as Khat commonly known as Mairungi.
Kilama noted that drug abuse and trafficking have become common practice especially with drivers of heavy goods vehicles who are mostly foreign nationals who openly consume the substance in broad day light.
Kilama cited an incident in Elegu where a Somali national who was under arrest pleaded with the police to allow him chew Mairungi in order to induce sleep in him, a demand rejected by the police according to the PRO.
Kilama said that the police will intensify their crackdown on the illicit trading of any type of drugs since it is against the law of the country.
According to the 2009, Uganda annual Police crime report, there were 2,034 reported and investigated narcotics cases, which led to 2,274 arrests compared to 2,542 in 2008.
The trend has been attributed to inadequate laws and weak border controls.
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