| By Milton Olupot |
THE purchase of the eight fighter jets and other military hardware is partly in preparation for the start of oil production in the Lake Albert region UPDF spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye said yesterday.
The National Resistance Movement caucus last week endorsed plans by the government to purchase new fighter planes and tanks to guard against possible threats and attacks. An estimated $740m (about sh1.7trillion) will be spent on the purchase.
The Wall Street Journal on Thursday linked the purchase of the jets to prepa¬ration for the start of oil production in the Lake Albert region, along the Ugandan border with restive eastern Congo, gov¬ernment officials said.
The Journal quoted the information and national guidance minister, Kabakumba Masiko, as saying: “The jets and military hardware will enable the country to deal with any ‘eventuality’ relating to rising security threats. Every country needs to be well equipped to defend its strategic interests,” she said.
Reacting to the story on Saturday, Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye said: “When you are dealing with national de¬fence, the army is in-charge of protecting the wealth of the country that includes national resources like oil, other minerals and cultural heritage.
“Acquiring a high air force capacity is in line with that defence policy of protecting territorial integrity and wealth. However, I need to add that this is not a threat to our neighbours. Our policy is defensive and not offensive or aggressive,” he said.
He, however, denied that the Uganda was building a new army base in Hoima, near the shores of Lake Albert as re¬ported by the Journal, saying that it is not only oil that must be protected, but also other national resources.
“The oil is already protected we are not just waking up today to build up the defence. We are only enhancing our capabilities,” he stressed.
The defence ministry has so far paid $446m (sh1trillion) to unidentified sup¬plier for the jets and tanks. Sources have however, said both the jets and tanks, are likely to be purchased from Russia.
Initial payment was made around December last year, and according to intelligence sources at least $446m has been paid so far.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Ugandan Intelligence officials as saying that Ugan¬da is facing rising threats stemming from neighbouring South Sudan’s impending secession from Khartoum, following an independence vote.
South Sudan’s administration has al¬ready accused the Sudanese government of arming militias in the disputed Abyei region. Uganda traditionally has been an ally of South Sudan, which is set to become independent in July.
The Journal reported that Uganda also fears possible incursions from the lawless eastern Congo, which borders the Lake Albert oil region in western Uganda. U.K.-based Tullow Oil PLC, France’s Total SA and China’s Cnooc Ltd, are preparing to start a $10b project there to develop Uganda’s oil fields this year.
Tullow last week announced that it would pay at least $469m (about sh1trillion) to Uganda government as tax-related payments, as a result of its takeover of Heritage Oil PLC’s stakes in the country, as well as the sale of a third of its interests to Cnooc and Total.
Kulayigye said on Saturday that the military is mandated to protect and de¬fend the territorial integrity of the country as well as defend the constitution of the mother country.
The possession of enormous national resources he said attracts vultures that want to grab what is available and if you stupidly look on, you should be ready to be a sad witness as your wealth is being parceled out between those with the means.
“If we want to remain an independent nation, pleasant to all nationals, with its development and a secure future for generations to come we must build capability and capacity,” the army spokes¬man said Building military capability is not necessarily preparation to go to war, but it also acts as deterrence against the wolves.