Uganda hauls back two dozen Somalia peacekeepers over scam

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA |          Wed Sep 18, 2013 8:28am EDT        


KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda has recalled the commander of its peacekeeping force in Somalia and almost two dozen other officers suspected of involvement in a scam to steal food and fuel and sell it on the black market.

Lt Colonel Paddy Ankunda, military spokesman, said the officers had been placed under “open arrest”, which will restrict their movements pending the investigation.

If the alleged racket is proven, it would underscore how embedded corruption, including among senior officers, is within a military infamous for taking the pay of “ghost soldiers” and money for helicopters which turned out to be junk.

“(Brigadier Michael) Ondoga and 23 others have been brought back from Somalia,” said Ankunda, spokesman for the Uganda People’s Defence Force. “Their travel documents have been withdrawn as investigations into allegations of selling fuel and food in Somalia commence.”

Ugandan troops form the backbone of the African Union’s 18,000-strong peacekeeper mission in Somalia which has spearheaded the offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants in the Horn of Africa country since 2007.

It was not clear how long the alleged scam had been running, nor how much money had been netted.

The European Union, which pays troops stipends, told Reuters it had “taken note and (was) looking into the allegations”.

Uganda’s leading daily, the Daily Monitor, said some Ugandan soldiers had received only one meal a day because of the scam.

In the early 2000s, some top Ugandan army officers were implicated in a “ghost soldiers” scandal in which salaries were drawn for dead or retired soldiers then allegedly stolen.

In another high profile scandal, President Yoweri Museveni’s brother was also accused of receiving a large bribe in the purchase of military helicopters that turned out to be junk.

Convictions as a result of internal probes are rare in Uganda’s military.

(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)a