Uganda-DRC: Tensions mount over lake Albert resources

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Tensions are mounting between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ugandan authorities accuse Kinshasa of putting up a checkpoint on the shores of Lake Albert, which is overflowing with oil. On Wednesday, Congolese authorities called on their neighbours to remain calm. A study of the exact boundary between the two countries is underway.

“I believe this is just aggression. It is provocation. That is the simplest way I can put it,” said a fuming Betty Adima, the Commissioner of the Ugandan district of Nebbi, which borders Lake Albert. Like her, several local authorities in Uganda this week accused the DRC of putting up a checkpoint on the banks of the oil drenched Lake Albert without waiting for results from a study on the border dispute between the two countries.

The border terminal in question is located in Goli, a major commercial town in the territory of Mahagi, Ituri, adjacent to the Ugandan Nebbi district. Goli, like towns along the border regions of West Nile (DRC), is the bone of contention between the two countries.

“They have armed men guarding the building which means they know they are doing something wrong,” says Adima. Although the Congolese side has called for calm, they insist that the police barrier, which is being challenged by Ugandans, is in its rightful place. Lambert Mende, the government spokesman in Kinshasa, interviewed by AFP said that the interior ministers of both countries would tackle the problem.

Fight for oil

According to Digital Congo, there are numerous border conflicts between the DRC and Uganda. The paper claims that the issue has become even more difficult to resolve as this border has “become an illusion” following the Ugandan occupation, which lasted nearly ten years (between 1996 and 2005).

The real reason for this new conflict, however, is oil. In September 2008, the Canadian oil company Heritage Oil announced the discovery of petrol reserves around Lake Albert. According to the company, it is the largest oil reserve ever to be discovered in Uganda. Its daily production potential is estimated at more than 14 000 barrels.

Before the discovery of oil, early August 2007, there were clashes between Uganda and the DRC, when a British engineer, exploring for Heritage Oil on the Ugandan side of the lake, was found dead. Kampala had accused the Congolese army to be the perpetrators of the murder.

Apart from the area’s oil reserves, it is also coveted for its mineral resources, including gold. Wednesday, the Congolese government indicated that a Joint Border Verification Committee is currently holding talks. The committee’s report is expected to help the two countries decide.

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