By Cyprian Musoke
and Reuben Olita
THE tiny Island of Migingo in the middle of Lake Victoria has sparked off a row between Kenya and Uganda. The two governments have now set up a joint border committee to verify where the one-acre island falls.
Kenyaâ€™s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the East African Community (EAC) minister, Amason Kingi, are expected in Uganda this week in a bid to find a solution to the ownership row.
Kingi told a press conference in Nairobi on Saturday that the conflict was threatening the EAC, hence the need to urgently address the issue.
The Kenyan minister said many fishermen on the island had fled for fear of being attacked by the Uganda Peopleâ€™s Defence Forces, which he said had invaded the island.
Ugandaâ€™s foreign affairs ministry permanent secretary Ambassador James Mugume yesterday said the two countries had decided to keep the status quo on the island until the verification exercise was over.
â€œEast African affairs minister Eriya Kategaya met the Kenyan security minister last week and agreed that the status quo holds. We have set up a joint team of technicians and surveyors to look at the maps and establish the borderline,â€ he said.
A ministerial meeting, he said, had been scheduled for March 13-14 to iron out the issue.
He said both countries had deployed security personnel to quell any â€œexcitementâ€ that may arise out of the confusion.
There was tension last week after Uganda sent more security personnel to guard the island.
Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba told the weekly press briefing in Kampala that marine officials and anti-riot police were dispatched to the island on Thursday.
â€œKenyan police officers attacked Migingo and threatened to take over (the island). They came with guns and an assortment of items. We have, therefore, sent marine officials and anti-riot police there,â€ she said.
Thursdayâ€™s clash is the second in five months.
â€œIt is no longer tenable to trust parties involved to get a solution on their own. To make sure the disputes are solved once and for all, the EAC should also arbitrate on the disputes involving the other four islands of Lolwe (Dolwe), Remba, Sigulu and Mayasi,â€ the Daily Nation said on Saturday.
They quoted the Nyanza provincial commissioner, Paul Olando, as saying that Kenyan security personnel had gone to the island to â€œfollow up on some intelligence information we had received and this was not the first time we were sending them there.â€
He said Kenya had not posted the eight officers permanently since the ownership issue was still under discussion.
Olando said the security personnel, who were later joined on the island by the Migori district commissioner, Julius Mutula, returned after a meeting with their Ugandan counterparts.
He denied reports that Kenyans had been detained by Ugandan forces, adding that there was no tension between the two countries over the dispute.
Kenya has formed a four-man inter-ministerial team led by lands minister James Orengo to address the issue.
Last year, Kenya and Uganda hired a mapping firm to survey the island. A report compiled by the company was last week debated by members of the East African Legislative Assembly in Rwanda.
Kenyan internal security minister George Saitoti said presidents Mwai Kibaki and Museveni were in talks to resolve the dispute.