Revealed: 2,000 UPDF troops died in Kisangani

By Dennis Otim

6th Sept 2010

The year 2000: Kisangani worriors in action

Gulu: An explosive and previously untold version of the story of the bloody clashes between Rwandan and Ugandan troops in Kisangani more than 10yrs ago has emerged.

In June 2000, the two armies [Rwanda’s RPA and Uganda’s UPDF] that had fought shoulder to shoulder as allies to oust President Mobutu Sese Seko from power in Zaire, [now Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] turned against each other for the second time and fought a bitter and bloody war that lasted up to six days.  The first clashes between the two erstwhile allies took place in 1999; no long after they toppled Mobutu.

At the time, analysts interpreted the clashes between the two invading armies as “a battle for influence and mineral resources”. Media reports at the time put the number of civilian fatalities at approximately 150 dead with scores more injured.  The fighting also destroyed water and electricity supplies to Kisangani, a town situated in north-eastern DRC.

Gen. Kazini, UPDF Commander in Kisangani

But all that has been in the public domain.  Now here is the untold story of the Kisangani clashes:  According to a source that spoke exclusively to Uganda Correspondent in Gulu town, the UPDF, under the overall command of Major General James Kazini [RIP] at the time, lost over 2,000 soldiers in the Kisangani clashes.  Hundreds of light weapons were also reportedly lost to the superior Rwandese troops.  A good number of heavy weapons were also captured or destroyed by the Rwandese.

Our source, a 41yr old Congolese woman who came to Uganda with a UPDF soldier but now lives alone in Gulu, said her estranged husband, a UPDF foot soldier who fought and survived the Kisangani clashes, broke down and sobbed inconsolably as he talked to her about the losses that they [UPDF] had suffered at the hands of Rwanda’s RPA troops.  “Ali liya machozi na mimi vile nika liya kama ana niyambiya basoldier ba wuganda zaidi ya elif imbili balifariki kwa hiyo vita”.

Swahili, especially the Congolese version of it, is not your reporter’s strongest point.  But another Congolese woman in Gulu who helped Uganda Correspondent during the course of the entire interview translated what our source had said to mean, “…he cried tears and I cried too as he told me that more than 2,000 Ugandan troops had been killed in that battle”.

She further added that her ex husband told her that in one particularly bitter battle, Rwanda’s battle hardened RPA troops, full of morale after victory over the UPDF in a previous skirmish at a fishing village in the outskirts of Kisangani, lured a huge convoy of Ugandan troops and tanks on to Chope Bridge [on the Chope River] and mercilessly attacked them.

Uganda Correspondent was told that by the end of that battle, all the Ugandan battle tanks in that fateful convoy were up in thick smoke and a total of 2,000 troops were, according to our source, officially declared “unaccounted for”.

The assumption, the source said, was that many of the UPDF soldiers who had not been killed by Rwandese bullets simply dived into and drowned in the Chope River below.  According to our source, her ex husband also told her that the few UPDF soldiers who knew about the loss of the 2,000 troops were given strict orders never to disclose that information for fear that it could destroy morale among the troops.

Uganda Correspondent also learnt that in another bloody incident at a place called Sotsike near Bangoka International Airport, 103 UPDF soldiers lost their lives in a battle that lasted approximately three to four hours.  The dead troops, our source said, had been sent as reinforcement from a UPDF base at Kaparata Barracks.  Sotsike was also the place where General Kazini’s “tactical base” was located.

In the end, we learnt, that except for 12 middle ranking UPDF officers [two Majors among them] whose remains were flown back to Uganda for burial, the rest were simply left to rot where they had fallen on the battlefield.  An earlier attempt by the surviving UPDF soldiers to bury their fallen colleagues in a mass grave had been rudely thwarted by an attack from Rwanda’s RPA troops.  So a decision was taken to leave the corpses behind instead of risking further loss of life.

A fairly senior UPDF officer who was contacted by Uganda Correspondent for comment [on this story] on the strength of his participation in the Kisangani clashes took an evasive approach and said “…we are not Journalists.  We are soldiers.  We don’t dwell on history.  We match forward”.  END.  If it’s Monday, it’s Uganda Correspondent.  Never miss out again!



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