President Yoweri Museveni has ordered the Ugandan military to join forces with the Agriculture ministry to combat illegal fishing, as Kenyan fishermen flee from the disputed Migingo Island after Uganda replaced its officers there.
Uganda People’s Defence Forces spokesman Richard Karemire said Mr James Nuwagaba from the marine brigade would head the yet-to-be-established unit of soldiers that will be patrolling lakes and rivers.
“UPDF Marine has been tasked with working with the Agriculture ministry and the police to fight illegal fishing. We need to protect our lakes,” Mr Karemire said.
This development gives the clearest indication that officers recently posted to Migingo in Lake Victoria could be from the military.
Some Kenyan fishermen are leaving Migingo, fearing for their lives.
Many have retreated to the mainland beaches of Sori, Muhuru and Mugabo in Migori County “until we establish the intention of the new team”.
“They are not ordinary marine police officers. They look like members of a special military force,” Mr John Obonyo, a fisherman, said.
Tension has been mounting on the island in the past few days after Uganda replaced its security officers.
The marine and regular police who have been on Migingo left with their belongings and the new team arrived immediately the old one left.
“We are worried because this group seems to be having heavy and sophisticated weapons. It is worrying, particularly coming just months to the General Election,” Wilson Onyango, a fisherman, said.
County Police Commander David Kirui said the Kenyan Government was aware of the development, but insisted that the new team was not made up of Ugandan soldiers.
“They are regular police and some marine officers. This is a normal change-over,” he said.
Mr Kirui said there were claims of corruption among members of the old team.
“In fact, we have also replaced some officers on the island because they had become too friendly with fishermen to enforce the law,” he said.
Mr Kirui said fishermen were complaining because they “can no longer see the faces they are used to”.
Though the fish–rich island is manned by security officers from both countries, Kenyan fishermen and traders are uneasy with the neighbours, whom they accuse of harassment and intimidation.
Last month, more than 1,000 traders and fishermen went to court to compel the government to expel the Ugandan forces from the island.