The government of Uganda has deployed military personnel to its border with Kenya in a bid to stamp out cross-border cattle rustling.
"We have made deployments at the borders. We are now patrolling along the border lines. These are blocking forces to ensure they [Kenyan rustlers] don't cross into our side. Some of these troops are for pursuance," Capt Deo Akiiki, the military spokesperson for eastern Uganda, told IRIN.
Akiiki said the deployment was significant, but he was unwilling to divulge the exact number of soldiers dispatched.
Ugandan authorities told IRIN that there had been an upsurge of cross-border cattle rustling involving Kenya's Pokot community. Rustlers are crossing into the Karamoja sub-region region of Uganda, home to an estimated 1.2 million people, many of them pastoralists. On 3 October, suspected Pokot raiders attacked Karamoja's Nakapiriprit and Amudat districts and made away with an unknown number of cattle. Two Ugandan soldiers were killed during the raid.
"Cross-border cattle rustling has not been a bigger issue for some time, but [it has recently gone] up," Akiiki said. He noted that Kenyan authorities were being consulted and were involved in the exercise.
The Uganda People's Defence Forces have dismissed claims by Pokot herdsmen that the military presence along the border was impeding access to pasture for their livestock.
Role of small arms
In 2010, Uganda and Kenya deployed their militaries along the border to rid the Karamojong and Pokot communities of illegal arms that were suspected to be fuelling cattle rustling, but the exercise was not successful.
State Minister for Karamoja Affairs Barbara Nekesa Oundo said there is a need for neighbouring Kenya and Sudan to be as energetic as Uganda in their disarmament exercises: "We encourage our partners to enforce the disarmament exercise in their countries. We want them to go into full swing, as we have done, to end the problem of illicit firearms and end cattle rustling in the region."
In a recent analysis, Makerere University's Refugee Law Project, through its Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity Project, identified porous borders and small arms proliferation along the South Sudan, Ethiopian and Kenyan borders as key drivers of conflict in Karamoja.
According to military officials, some 30,000 out of an estimated 50,000 illegal guns in Karamoja have been recovered since the government launched a disarmament program there 11 years ago. However, there are concerns about the security of disarmed communities.
"Groups outside Uganda and those along the borderline remain with guns and continue to terrorize disarmed communities. Some people are being forced to re-arm," Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at the Refugee Law Project, told IRIN. "It is clear that some guns have been removed, although the exact number and whereabouts remain uncertain. The fears of insecurity and the vulnerability of the disarmed communities remains a growing concern.
"My recommendation to stop the cycle of disarmament and rearmament in Karamoja - there is need for a regional, comprehensive but peaceful disarmament programme, backed and supported by the United Nations and the African Union, if the region is to enjoy sustainable peace and stability," he said.
Uganda has an estimated 200,000 illegal guns, according to the GunPolicy.Org, a gun violence monitoring organization.