Two brigadiers, one colonel among the accused officers.
The army has suspended 15 officers and men after an internal investigation found them guilty of charging soldiers money in order to second them for deployment to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
According to sources who divulged the development to The Observer, some of the officers were suspended after the army confirmed that they were sexually exploiting their juniors, especially female soldiers, who sought to be deployed in the lucrative Somalia mission.
The sources said the suspension was announced by the UPDF Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, in a radio message that was dispatched on Sunday evening. Gen Katumba also blacklisted the indicted officers from participating in any foreign mission involving UPDF.
When contacted for a comment yesterday evening, Gen Katumba was initially evasive. However, the UPDF boss later conceded that he had suspended the officers. Declining to go into details because “this is not a matter for the public,” Gen Katumba only said that the suspension has something to do with officers they were training for deployment to external missions.
“Those officers and men, some of the things which they are being accused of, they will have to defend themselves and give their side of the story which they have not yet done,” he said.
According to Katumba, the decision to suspend the officers was an internal management issue over mistakes that the officers made in their respective areas of deployment.
“We are going to give them an opportunity to give their side of the story and whoever puts his story [right] will be cleared,” he explained. “As of now, their participation in international missions will be after they have put their stories correct.”
Senior officers suspended include Brig Francis Chemonges, the commandant of the Armoured Warfare Training School, Brig Jack Bakasumba, the commandant of Singo Training School, and Lt Col Kutesa, who is currently deployed in Somalia.
Probe bears fruit
The suspension of the officers comes six months after The Observer first reported that the army had begun an investigation into what was seen as a growing case of exploitation within the UPDF (See: UPDF probes sale of Somalia mission slots).
When this newspaper first contacted the army over the matter, the UPDF spokesman, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, said their investigations were hitting dead ends. He, however, emphasised that the army did not condone the practice.
“We have been investigating these rumours but nothing substantive has come out yet,” Col Ankunda said then, adding: “For us [UPDF], that is criminal and whoever is involved, if there is incriminating evidence, they will be punished.”
Since the UPDF was first deployed in Somalia under the Amisom umbrella in 2007, the army has won plaudits for its role in pacifying many parts of the war-torn country. However, that reputation has lost some of its shine after a series of self-inflicted injuries.
Last year, the army arrested Brig Michael Ondoga, the Uganda contingent commander, for alleged corruption. Brig Ondoga and several other senior officers are currently on trial at the General Court Martial in Kampala. About a month ago, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing UPDF soldiers of sexually exploiting and abusing needy women in Somalia. Gen Katumba said the African Union is still carrying out an investigation into those claims.
Source : The Observer