A UPDF soldier was killed and several others injured when a bomb exploded aboard a truck ferrying soldiers on the first day of Operation Lighting Thunder, Daily Monitor can exclusively reveal. An army spokesman, however, told this newspaper that the December 14 blast did not delay the operation against the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in Garamba, in the heavily-forested northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Corporal Bazilio Bahemuka of the Koboko-based 3rd battalion was ripped apart by the 82-millimeter illuminating mortar bomb that detonated on the lorry at Poki Hills, between Kaya and Yei River County Township in the rugged South Sudan.
There were reportedly up to 15 vehicles in the military convoy led by Lt. Col. Hassan Kimbowa, the UPDF 409 brigade commander, when the blast occurred, injuring several soldiers, some critically.
Maj. Paddy Ankunda, the military and defence spokesman, confirmed the incident to Daily Monitor on Saturday but declined to explain its cause. “Yes, there was indeed that accident,” Maj. Ankunda said. “A bomb in the vehicle exploded and killed Corporal Bazilio Bahemuka and some other soldiers sustained minor injuries.”
Daily Monitor has learnt that the soldiers involved in the blast were part of the advance team that left Koboko District under the cover of darkness to launch Operation Lightning Thunder, which has now been underway for 20 days. But Maj. Ankunda said: “This accident did not affect our plans of Operation Lightning Thunder since the convoy moved on [to DR Congo] and we launched the attack against the LRA rebels on the date and time earlier planned.”
This is the first time news of the blast is being made public. It raises to four the number of UPDF soldiers known to have been killed in the renewed military offensive against the LRA, following rebel leader Joseph Kony’s refusal to sign a final peace deal.
Flight Lt. Bosco Opio was killed when the MiG21 fighter jet he was flying crashed in DR Congo while another, as-yet-unidentified, soldier was shot by a UN peacekeeper in Congo. Another soldier was killed and others injured yesterday evening when a military ambulance they were riding in towards the frontlines crashed in Pakwach. The ambulance, which was enroute to Garamba from Gulu, crashed about 100 metres from the Albert Cook Bridge over the River Nile at Pakwach at around 5pm yesterday.
The cause of the crash and the identities of the victims were not available by press time yesterday. The army is also investigating the cause of the MiG21 crash.
Daily Monitor has learnt that the bomb aboard the truck in the December 14 incident went off at around 8pm and the victims were transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital Maracha in the new Maracha-Terego District, arriving at around midnight. This is after the army bypassed Koboko health Centre IV, which is the nearest medical facility to the spot where the accident happened.
This paper visited Maracha hospital on Friday and found Lance Cpl. Pampas Otim, 37, one of the soldiers injured in the blast, writhing in pain at the Isolation ward where he was admitted a fortnight ago. The bomb shrapnel smashed his left arm, which has since been amputated and ruptured the flesh in his lower abdomen, paralysing his body movements.
With great difficulty, RA102471, Otim lifted his right limb and made a painful slight turn on the hospital bed declaring: “I feel life is not anymore useful for me.”
Tears dripped down the eyes of his father, Pantaleo Eusukoit, 59, who travelled from Ngariam Sub-county in the eastern Katakwi District to attend to his ailing son. “I am anxious about his condition,” Mr Eusukoit said. “I do not know if he will survive but I appeal to the government to help compensate him now that he has become disabled.”
Doctors said Lance Cpl. Otim, a father of four, had suffered a crush injury to the arm and a penetrating injury on the back, sparing his vertebral bones and ribs.
The explosive fragments that lodged into Otim’s body caused his abdomen to swell, prompting medics at Maracha Hospital to carry out multiple emergency surgeries to save his life. Some of the injured soldiers included privates Moses Kalisto, 20, and Badru Kyemba who have since been discharged and sent back to duty.
Their colleagues; RA201660 Joseph Okiria, 29, and RA221274 Pampas Ocude, 20, have both recovered but the army leadership assigned them to take care of Lance Cpl. Otim at the hospital.
Operation Lightning Thunder was launched to force the rebels to sign a peace deal and to rescue abducted women and children. The army says 13 rebels have been killed since the operation was started, while aid agencies say the rebels have killed at least 400 people.
Apart from transporting the injured to hospital, the army has offered them 62 kilogrammes of maize flour and 42 kilogrammes of beans.
Reported by Tabu Butagira for the Daily Monitor