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The East African : Aug 22nd 2015
8 COLLATERAL DAMAGE? The EastAfrican NEWS AUGUST 22-28,2015 MPs want cou≥t to stop SGR p≥oject By HALIMA ABDALLAH Special Correspondent CONSTRUCTION OF Uganda’s standard gauge railway (SGR) has run into new obstacles after three legislators filed a suit in court challenging the cost of the project and the manner in which China Harbour and Engineering Company (CHEC) was selected as the prime contractor. The government is the sole defendant in the application, which seeks to cancel the contract and stop further transactions. The hearing of the case is slated for September 21. MPs Theodore Ssekikubo, Ugandan soldiers who form part of the Amisom team in Somalia. Some peacekeepers have been accused of killing civilians Pic: File Pressure mounts for Amisom, Uganda to probe Merka killings Eyewitnesses said Ugandan peacekeepe≥s ente≥ed Rusiya and shot six men f≥om one family By JULIUS BARIGABA The EastAfrican and the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to explain why after four weeks since Ugandan peacekeepers allegedly killed six civilians in Merka no investigation has been conducted leading to prosecution of the culprits. Merka is 109km southwest P of the capital, Mogadishu. Amisom has delivered sig- nificantly on its mandate to rid Mogadishu and other strategic towns in Somalia of Al Shabaab terrorists since it started operations in 2007, but the peacekeeping force now finds itself at the centre of yet another storm of controversy. Eyewitnesses said Ugandan peacekeepers entered Merka’s Rusiya neighbourhood after a bomb attack on an Amisom convoy on July 31. The soldiers found the Moalim Iidey family celebrating a wedding, separated the men from the women and shot six men dead — four brothers, their father and uncle. The Amisom forces de- ployed around Merka in the Lower Shabelle region are Ugandan troops. In a recent statement, Hu- man Rights Watch called for action on the Ugandan forces for the incident, and demanded that Kampala launch an impartial investigation into ressure is mounting on the Ugandan government the crime — over which Amisom has remained quiet. “The investigation should be carried out with maximum protection for witnesses, and the Ugandan government should fairly prosecute any of its soldiers responsible for these criminal offences,” a HRW statement said. The accounts say that four died immediately, while one brother hid under a bed after being shot but later died. Their father died during the night after the soldiers allegedly refused to allow the family to take him to hospital. “The African Union forc- es in Somalia face difficult challenges, but that makes respecting the laws of war even more crucial,” said Maria Burnett, a senior researcher at HRW. “Gunning down people at a wedding or anyone else in cold blood as punishment for insurgent at- Other witnesses in Merka said the locals “fear Amisom a lot” and that some elders have requested that the Ugandan troops deployed around the area be withdrawn, a request that the Amisom leadership denied because of the security implications for the neighbourhood and Mogadishu, the Amisom spokesperson confirmed. The civilians’ fear of Amisom tacks will only make things harder for the AU forces in the future.” Observers argue that under international law applicable to the armed conflict in Somalia, parties to the conflict, including troop-contributing countries to the peacekeeping operation, have an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes by forces under their jurisdiction and take appropriate action. The Amisom troop-con- tributing countries are Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. By press time, The East- African had not reached the Uganda People’s Defence Forces spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda for comment on what Kampala has done about the recent blot on the record of its troops in Somalia. Last year, UPDF court-mar- tialled some of its soldiers deployed in Somalia who raped Somali women and engaged in other offences that breach the international operational guidelines for peacekeeping CIVILIAN CASUALTIES troops arises from other alleged killings: On July 21, the peacekeepers are accused of killing 11 Somalis — including a woman, two teenagers and two elderly men in the Jujuuma, Aw Balle and Rusiya neighbourhoods. Human Rights Watch found 21 cases of “sexual exploitation and abuse” by Amisom soldiers between 2013 and 2014. forces. On its part, Amisom is yet to accept responsibility for the killing of civilians by its forces, or even investigate the incident; the peacekeeping force only issued a vague statement days later that the Amisom leadership noted and respected the number of calls for investigations into the incident. “Considering our commit- ment to upholding our human rights obligations in the conduct of our operations, in response to the rash of allegations coming out of Merka, and in line with laid down administrative procedures, the officer in charge of the troop detachment in Merka has been recalled for questioning as a prelude to a possible further investigation,” read the Amisom statement, issued on August 4. Three weeks later, The EastAfrican asked Amisom spokesman Lt Col Paul Njuguna what came out of the questioning and whether there would be sanctions against the soldiers. “Kindly note that the lead- ership of Amisom will be making a public statement on the Merka incident in the following days, and that the questions raised will be addressed. We request you bear with us because given the multitude of similar enquiries, we are not able to respond to each individual inquiry,” he replied. According to HRW, wit- nesses are afraid to come forward because they fear reprisals from both Al Shabaab and Amisom. Construction of the SGR is ongoing in Kenya. MPs in Uganda have challenged the project. Picture: File Barnabas Tinkasimire and Joseph Gonzaga Sewungu applied to the High Court on June 25 seeking a judicial review of the process leading to the award of the contract, which they argue was done contrary to public policy and transparency. The petitioners argue that there were no standard bid documents, no transparency in the process and there are no known structures that will take care of technical and public interests. Also in contention is CHEC’s technical experience in delivering contracts of that magnitude. CHEC is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which is building the 52km EntebbeKampala Express Highway. There are claims that CCCC had at one time been barred from participating in World Bank-funded projects on fraud and corruption allegations. “Once the court makes a declaration that the contract is illegal, the whole contract will have to be terminated. There should be no cost to taxpayers because the contactor will bear the burden for proceeding on an illegality right from the start,” said Wilfred Nuwagaba, the applicants’ lawyer, who is also an MP from the ruling party. The Attorney General is expected to file a response. “There are good chances of success for the government because no law was breached. There are no procedural irregularities because everything was done in accordance with the law,” said Elisha Bafirawala, a senior state attorney in the AG’s office. In March, the Parliamen- tary Select Committee was tasked with scrutinising the awarding of the contract, after complaints were raised that the transaction did not follow procurement regulations. But before parliament could conclude investigations, Ministry of Works officials, at the insistence of President Yoweri Museveni, signed the contract with CHEC on March 30. However, China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC) claimed that CHEC had been favoured and illegally given the contract. The case was settled out of court after President Museveni ordered CCECC to back off in exchange for a contract to develop the western leg taking the SGR to Rwanda. High cost In addition, the MPs say, the cost of the project, at $3.3 billion, is exorbitant. “The impugned contract agreement is engineering, procurement and construction in nature, and therefore has no known costs as prices will depend on studies. Prices remain unknown until procurement and subsequently construction,” reads the court document. However, the project is already underway. “The threshold is already high because implementation has started. People are being compensated, and it is in the public interest that the project is completed,” said Mr Bafirawala.
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