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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Uganda and Congo's troubled waters
Boats on Lake Albert (Photo by BBC's Sarah Grainger)

By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Lake Albert, Uganda

At first glance the village of Ntoroko, which sits on the shores of Lake Albert on the western border of Uganda with the Democratic Republic of Congo, seems peaceful enough.

But the 600 fishermen who make their living here say recent events on the lake have devastated their business.

Ugandan fishermen on Lake Albert (Photo by BBC's Sarah Grainger)
Fishermen consider the deep waters too dangerous now

Earlier this month, two people were killed when men in Congolese army uniforms clashed with security guards working on an oil exploration barge in the lake.

The Congolese said the barge was in their waters; the oil company Heritage said it was anchored in Uganda.

In a separate incident, four Ugandan army soldiers were taken into custody for allegedly trespassing on Congolese territory, but were later released.

Island dispute

The border between Uganda and DR Congo cuts straight through Lake Albert.

Rukwanzi island evictee Rose Kirungi (Photo by BBC's Sarah Grainger)
They said I was letting spies from Uganda sleep in my house. Then they put me in a boat and told me to go
Rose Kirungi

But it is difficult to demarcate and police this watery frontier, which goes some way to explain these recent incidents.

The Ugandan fishermen say they are so concerned about their security that they consider the deeper waters of the lake, which offer the best fishing, to be too dangerous now.

"I used to ship seven tonnes of fish every four days," says Henry Mubiru, who transports fish from Lake Albert to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

"Since the events of the last three weeks, that's dropped to around two tonnes."

Tensions at the lake have been exacerbated by reports that DR Congo and Uganda are tussling for ownership of the island of Rukwanzi.

Balinda Habib, the local council chairman in Ntoroko, told me the island had always belonged to Uganda, but few Ugandans lived there.

"They were told to leave that place because it's a breeding ground for fish," he says.

"So around 15 years ago, many Ugandans moved out. Now about 1,000 people live there, but they're mostly Congolese."

Oil fortune

The Ugandan authorities would not allow me to visit Rukwanzi, but I took a boat out onto Lake Albert to meet Ugandan Rose Kirungi.

map

She moved to the island eight months ago to buy and sell fish but says she was evicted by Congolese soldiers at the weekend.

"They called me to the office and told me to leave the island. They said I was letting spies from Uganda sleep in my house. Then they put me in a boat and told me to go," she said.

Rose has now moved to a different island in the lake.

Following the incidents earlier this month, Uganda and DR Congo agreed to hold talks by the end of August to discuss their border at Lake Albert, and have set up a commission to look into sharing oil resources in the area.

What is at stake is more than just a three-kilometre square piece of real estate.

Rukwanzi is seen as a strategic location for oil exploration which has been going on in the area for several years.

And whoever ultimately claims the island, of course, could be sitting on many barrels of oil and thus a small fortune.




SEE ALSO
Geologist shot in Uganda attack
07 Aug 07 |  North Yorkshire
Country profile: Uganda
13 Apr 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
16 Jun 07 |  Country profiles



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