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Uganda, DRC in diplomatic stand-off

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th August 2007 03:00 AM

British oil explorer Carl Nefdt might have been an unfortunate victim of a brewing border dispute between Uganda and Congo over a mineral-rich area.

British oil explorer Carl Nefdt might have been an unfortunate victim of a brewing border dispute between Uganda and Congo over a mineral-rich area.

By Cyprian Musoke and conan businge

British oil explorer Carl Nefdt might have been an unfortunate victim of a brewing border dispute between Uganda and Congo over a mineral-rich area.

Suddenly, the tiny island of Rukwanzi, which hitherto few had heard of, is at the centre of a heated debate.

The Congolese army insists that the island, where its soldiers attacked the oil exploration platform on August 3, is on their soil.
Uganda and Heritage, the oil company carrying out the exploration, disagree.

“The oil exploration crew, which was carrying out a seismic survey at a distance of 2.1km from the international border, were attacked by three armed patrol boats from DR Congo,” Ugandan energy minister Daudi Migereko said at a press conference a day after the attack.

Heritage pointed out that, unlike the Congolese army, they have sophisticated GPS equipment that uses satellite technology to monitor their location.

“When we conduct seismic studies, it is vital for us to know where we are. The seismic crew has highly sophisticated GPS equipment. We are absolutely sure that the barge never left Ugandan waters,” said Brian Smith, the Vice-President Exploration of Heritage.
At a meeting between army chiefs of both countries in Entebbe this week, it was decided that an inter-ministerial joint verification be set up to establish where the border is and in which country Rukwanzi lies.

“The border must be clear. The map should be able to clearly show where that disputed area lies. If someone wants to claim the island, he should be able to bring scientific proof,” Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa told Saturday Vision.

Moving river
However, reliance on River Semliki as the demarcation line is increasingly causing problems.

“According to the international protocols, we should be using the river, but it meanders, which sometimes causes problems,” state minister for lands Michael Werike told Parliament this week.
The river not only meanders; in recent years it has also moved inwards towards Uganda as a result of erosion.

Deusdedit Nkurunziza, a Makerere University lecturer in conflict studies, predicted four years ago that the shifting of River Semliki would create conflict between Uganda and DR Congo.

While carrying out a research on international boundaries in 2003, he observed that the river, which originally marked the border between Uganda and Congo, had moved over 10 meters into Uganda in just one year.

Later reports indicate that in some places, the river shifted by as much as one kilometer in the last 10 to 15 years, leaving a strip of Ugandan land on the Congolese side. If the river is taken as the border, Uganda loses every year some land to Congo, according to the university lecturer.

“I knew this would result into a conflict. The question is primarily the allocation of resources following nature’s change of the boundaries established by the colonialists.”

However, he points out, trees that flanked the river banks remained in their original positions and the local residents are able to identify them. Therefore, says Nkurunziza, in positions where the river has shifted, these trees should be used to mark the boundary between Uganda and Congo.

River Semliki has been eating deeper into Ugandan territory because of increased soil erosion resulting from the melting of the Mount Rwenzori ice cap.

“The demarcations are a serious cause of conflict in regard to resource exploitation. The question is: who controls the river? And if the river is the boundary, what then happens to the land which is now in Congo but was formerly in Uganda?” Nkurunziza asked.

However, experts point out that Rukwanzi, being an island on the lake, could not have moved into Congo as a result of the erosion of River Semliki.

The more fundamental question, however, is whether natural features, rather than geographical coordinates, should be used to define international borders.

Uganda, DRC in diplomatic stand-off

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