Explanations about the attack and the alleged coup attempt have been scarce. The few that have been offered are being treated by many commentators as far from credible.
Gen. Kayihura told journalists that the Gulu attackers were attempting to free a jailed colleague; one Oola Dan Odiya, who is being held on charges of murder and terrorism related to an earlier May 27 attack at a local police post in the same area.
In that attack, at a place called Opit, in Lakwana division Omoro county Gulu there was heavy gun fire exchange and the attackers killed one officer and made off with eight guns. Local reports say the attacked position was UPDF Detach but Kayihura has since downgraded it to a Local Defense Unit (LDU) encampment.
That attack, according to local media reports, happened just days after another group – reportedly armed with new-looking weapons including SMGs, attacked a village called Koch village in Yumbe district which borders South Sudan and kidnapped 23 people.
When The Independent contacted the head of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Charles Bakahumura for a comment on the developments, he claimed ignorance of what was going on. “I don’t know about any coup,” the army intelligence chief said before hanging up abruptly.
With the army and police preferring to remain tight-lipped, the media and public have resorted to speculation.
Some are pointing at a group calling itself the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The High Command of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would like to congratulate and command our Galant members of the Democratic Military wing upon carrying out a successful Operation in Gulu last night,” read an email from someone claiming to be a member of NDA.
But Kayihura has described NDA as a criminal gang. Then he said that the police and the army are involved in a joint operation based on intelligence that groups want to attack police stations in Kampala.
Reports from Gulu also indicate that there has been an increase in crime in the sub-region. However, most credible paths of investigation point at political motives in some of the attacks. The arrested man that Kayihura spoke of, Oola Dan Odiya, is the opposition Uganda peoples Congress party’s National Deputy Secretary for Mobilisation. He was reportedly due to appear in court the day before the attack on charged connected to “subversive activities”.
More attacks planned?
However, while some in the police leadership and the UPDF say those arrested are key suspects in a planned string of attacks on police stations intended to culminate into a coup, some within the security establishment say the current wave of arrests might be based on premature intelligence.
Although police claims that the operation is being carried out jointly, there also appears to be lack of coordination on the matter amongst security agencies.
For instance, when asked about the arrested soldiers, police chief Kayihura, referred journalists to the UPDF.
In the case of the Special Forces operation in Kyengera, The Independent understands that the tip about the suspects was passed to the Special Forces Command officers by police. The Independent understands that the Chieftance of Military Intelligence, for instance, already knew about the suspects and their location and was still watching them to understand their exact objective.Some CMI informers are among those “arrested”.
Some within the security establishment said the arrests were based on premature intelligence and the suspects might be hard to prosecute.
The secrecy surrounding the arrests may partly explain the divided opinion as to whether there is indeed a rebel threat or whether the arrests are being motivated by mere political reasons.
A security source told The Independent that some elements are attempting subversive activities hoping to prove to international elements who are ready to fund elements with capacity to overthrow the government. The officer added that these elements’ activities have been on for some time now. On the other hand, it appears that those at the heart of the joint operation have grossly exaggerated the capacity of the suspects and the extent of their activities, the security source added.
Other commentators say the government is using a “coup attempt scare” to iron-handedly deal with the opposition. Before Odwee and Ojara’s arrest became public, Kabaziguruka, the Nakawa Division MP, was the only publicly known detainee under the operation. With this, essentially, the security establishment gave the alleged rebel activity an opposition face.