Kenya, Uganda calm tensions over Migingo

April 17, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 17 – Kenya and Uganda officials are urging the citizens of both countries to be patient as the two governments move to resolve the Migingo Island ownership tussle.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka said on Friday that high level meetings between the two governments were ongoing to resolve the dispute.

“I can assure you that this problem will be handled, we have decided to engage the Ugandan government at a very high level. We believe outstanding issues that have not been handled well will be tackled,” he promised.

Uganda Foreign Affairs Minister Isaac Munsumba meanwhile has said that the only avenue of resolving the issue is through diplomacy, adding that the matter had been blown out of proportion.

He insisted that at no point was Kenya and Uganda thinking of going to war over the island, no matter the pressure over the matter.

“No amount of words that inflame the situation will defeat the diplomatic solution from being pursued by the two countries. You can read inflammatory statements, they will not detract the two governments from diplomacy,” he assured.

He said that Kenya and Uganda have the capability and the competence to resolve the issue without going the military way.

Mr Munsumba also noted that both states are party to similar frameworks such as the International Conference on Great Lakes Region, East Africa Community and among others the Lake Victoria Management Basin.

Should the talks fail, he said the International Court of Justice was another option that could be used to resolve the matter.

The Minister said the creation of a technical team comprising of Kenyan and Ugandan experts to conduct a comprehensive study on Lake Victoria, was a sure way of finding the legitimate owner of the Island in question.

The two government officials spoke even as civil rights activists in Kenya vowed to hold a peaceful public rally in Nairobi next Saturday to pressure on the government to resolve the issue.

Led by Okoiti Omtatah of Patriotic Kenyans and Al Amin Kimathi of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, the activists questioned why the Ugandan government had continued to retain military forces on the Island despite having pledged to withdraw them.

“We don’t understand why they (army) from Uganda are still pitching tent there. Uganda and Kenya has agreed to withdraw them yet we still get reports they are still there. A Ugandan flag is still flying high at the Island as well,” Omtatah told reporters at the Central Police station on Friday, when he presented a letter of notification for the public rally to the police.

“We demand the unconditional withdrawal of the forces from Migingo Island,” he added.

The activists maintain that the Island is the property of the Republic of Kenya and even questioned why the government was involved in any form of negotiations with Uganda.

“We don’t understand why the government is negotiating to reclaim her own property. As civil society, we are opposed to any form of negotiations on this issue,” Omtatah added and vowed to mobilise public support to ensure Kenya reclaims the Island.

Nairobi Central Divisional Police Tito Kilonzi confirmed he had received the notification from the civil society but did not immediately reveal if they had been granted permission to hold the rally.

“The notification has reached our offices… We will study it before we get back to them,” he said.

Nairobi Provincial Police Chief Njue Njagi later told Capital News no public rally will be allowed to take place as requested by the civil society members.

“It can not happen. That issue is being handled from the higher level. How can we allow the civil society to hold demonstrations in Nairobi over Migingo? That is ridiculous,” he said when reached on telephone.

On Thursday, 12 fishermen arrested by Uganda military personnel in Migingo went missing.

Reports from the Island indicated that the fishermen were rounded up after failing to abide by an alleged curfew imposed there on Tuesday.

Migingo Beach Management Unit Chairman Juma Mbori said the fishermen had not reported back after some of their colleagues were released.

However, Mr Onyonka said that the Kenya government was not aware of such arrests.



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