Leaders of the former Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) II, along with other returnees from South Sudan, are at odds with the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) regarding the count of ex-combatants seeking amnesty.
According to the ex-combatants, they claim that over 600 members wish to receive amnesty. However, the military asserts that they have documented and verified only 186 individuals.
A provided list from the former fighters, obtained by this publication, reveals that 423 ex-combatants returned home between 2015 and 2022, while another group of more than 400 fighters remains dispersed in South Sudan and DR Congo, awaiting further instructions from their leadership.
Contrary to these claims, CMI refutes the numbers, stating that they received only 186 ex-combatants during the three-month period granted to the group. Out of these, 121 have been integrated into the UPDF, while 60 received startup capital and were sent back to their homes. Five, including Brig Gen Ayiga Rajabu Ayile, remain under CMI’s protection until their issues are resolved.
Maj Gen James Birungi, the CMI chief, suggests that the rebels aim to inflate their numbers for better bargaining power and financial incentives. He explains that upon their return, the ex-fighters had a substantial number, but the army allowed them time to assemble at the PRAFOD Training Institute, resulting in only 186 returnees being documented.
Gen Birungi also mentions that these returnees had previously engaged in uncoordinated and haphazard attempts to enter Uganda, contributing to a rise in violent crime in the West Nile Sub-region between 2018 and 2022.
CMI emphasizes that the group, led by Brig Ayiga, independently made their way into Uganda, and the only assistance provided by CMI was the establishment of a reception center in Yumbe District, where they instructed Brig Ayiga to gather his people.
As of March 2023, CMI had documented and verified 186 Ugandan ex-combatants who were in SPLA-IO ranks and reported to the reception center at PRAFORD Technical School in Yumbe Town Council. The group had surrendered 33 assorted firearms. Out of these, 121 were screened and sent for Basic Military Training in Migyera-Nakasongola, with plans for their integration into the UPDF. Sixty ex-combatants received startup capital, including boda bodas, while Gen Ayiga and four others are still undergoing processing.
Gen Birungi adds that Ayiga’s group attempted to mobilize locals in West Nile to bolster their numbers, using it as a bargaining chip for better resettlement packages. This included around 120 civilians who were locally mobilized but chose not to participate in the documentation and verification exercise, fearing arrest.
Mr. Daniel Andruga Bata, a member of the peace coordination team, disputes CMI’s claims and challenges Gen Birungi to join a fact-finding mission to both South Sudan and DR Congo to count the numbers and verify if amnesty had been previously granted. “We have asked them to provide a camp and safe passage where the fighters can assemble,” he added.