Saturday, March 28, 2009

Migingo talks turn stormy

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula (right) watches as Lands Minister James Orengo (centre) argues with an official from Uganda (left) who had accused him of inciting the public in his address at Migingo island.  Photo/FILE

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula (right) watches as Lands Minister James Orengo (centre) argues with an official from Uganda (left) who had accused him of inciting the public in his address at Migingo island. Photo/File 

By DANIEL OTIENO and ELISHA OTIENO

A meeting between Kenyan and Ugandan delegations aimed at resolving the row over Migingo island ended without agreement on key issues.

At the centre of controversy on Friday were the Ugandan flag and troops still on the island, although the two countries had agreed in Kampala earlier in the month that they would be withdrawn.

And for the first time both countries admitted that the row has nothing to do with the rocky outcrop; it is about the fish that abound in surrounding waters.

The delegations held the meeting on a boat as it went around the island for over three hours. They later disembarked and addressed the residents.

At one point, there was a near-punch-up when Lands minister James Orengo said in the Luo language: “Stay calm, diplomacy shall overcome force, and we will have our way”.

But some members of the Ugandan delegation, who claimed that they understand the language, shot up and said the minister was inciting the Kenyans, bringing the session to an abrupt end.

The residents, mainly Kenyans, joined in the fray and accused the Ugandans of disrespect. But Kenyan police saved the Ugandans from an attack.

The officers escorted them to the boat as a shouting crowd followed.

On the boat, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula said Kenya had pushed for the meeting, arguing that some agreements reached earlier were not being adhered to.

“We have come here because we have heard complaints from our people that what we talked about in Kampala is not being implemented,” he said.

“Uganda had agreed to withdraw her forces, but this is yet to take place”.

The Kenyan delegation insisted that the Ugandan flag be pulled down, accusing their colleagues of blatant disregard for the earlier agreements.

The Kenyans argued that the flag’s presence “legitimises Uganda’s claim to the island”.

But Uganda’s Kirunda Kivejinja said they would remove the flag only after consulting State House in Kampala. This angered the Kenyan delegation.

It was later agreed that the Ugandan ministers would take five days to carry out the consultation. When the Kenyans questioned the troops’ presence, their Ugandan counteerparts said they were there to keep law and order.

This did not amuse Internal Security assistant minister Orwa Ojode, who said that if that was the case, he would be sending over Kenyan police.

Fisheries minister Paul Otuoma was also in the Kenyan delegation.

Uganda was represented by Mr Kivejinja, the Third Deputy Premier and minister for Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, Lands ministers Asuman Kyinji and Fisheries minister Fred Mukisa.

Among the agreements reached at the Kampala meeting was that Uganda would withdraw its troops from Migingo, which is yet to happen.

And even as Kenya maintains that its approach to the issue is diplomatic, residents said later that more Ugandan forces arrived at night, only hours after the meeting.

After a heated debate, it was agreed that police bosses from both countries work out modalities of deploying a joint force to keep law and order.

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