Ugandan still a thorn in East Africa's side

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Idi Amin may be gone -- but Uganda itself is reemerging as a major concern for its African neighbors. The volatile political situation in this East African county has spurred new calls for the creation of a Commonwealth peace-keeping force in Uganda.

Pressure for such a force has increased since Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere decided to remove at least half the 20,000 Tanzanian soldiers he has had in Uganda. This could lead to a complete withdrawal, leaving a serious security vacuum in East Africa.

It is a fairly open secret the Ugandan President Godfrey Binaisa's surprise visit to Kenya for talks last week with President Daniel arap Moi was to consult with his influential neighbor on the possibilities of organizing such a force.

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The concept was proposed at the Commonwealth summit meeting in Lusaka last July. At that time President Nyerere indicated he would be prepared to pull his troops out if they could be replaced by a Commonwealth force. Uganda, Kenya, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were in favor of the idea.

But the Commonwealth summit had more pressing concerns in Rhodesia. The Commonwealth sent a peace-keeping force to the Rhodesian elections and the operation proved a spectacular success. The reports on the peace-keepers' performance -- by men who, for the most part, had never been abroad before -- were highly satisfactory.

The original idea was to send about 5,000 men to Uganda, together with paramilitary units to handle internal security and to train Uganda's Army and police force.

Mr. Binaisa would like a larger force, but there would be considerable problems in housing and feeding more than 5,000. The strain of housing, feeding , and paying Tanzania's 20,000 men is already proving an enormous strain on the Ugandan Treasury.

Now a political confrontation is building up in Uganda. President Binaisa and his pro-Western moderates are on one side. On the other side are the factions supporting former President Milton Obote who is living in exile in Tanzania. He is supported by intellectuals of Marxist and left-wing groups.

From his home in Dar es Salaam, bolstered by support from President Nyerere, Dr. Obote, now has openly thrown his hat into the ring by announcing that he intends to come back to fight in the promised elections scheduled for June 1981.

It is no secret that at least one pro- Obote faction is recruiting its own private army, with arms filtering in from arms caches abandoned by the defeated forces of Idi Amin. If the bulk of Tanzanian troops were to leave, it could well be the signal for violent outbreaks of factional fighting.

The main antagonists to Dr. Obote and his supporters are the powerful Bagandan people of the south, who have intensely disliked Dr. Obote since, during his presidency, he destroyed the Baganda kingdom. Dr. Obote's power base is with the tribes of the north.

Dr. Obote, an ideological socialist, was the first president of Uganda. He came to power at independence in 1963. Idi Amin launched his military coup when Dr. Obote was away at the 1971 Commonwealth conference in Singapore.

Instead of flying back to Uganda Dr. Obote went into exile in Dar es Salaam, where he has lived ever since. On President Nyerere's advice he took no active part in the overthrow of Idi Amin because of the divisive nature of his own policies.

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