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Soldiers sue for pay: Soldiers who served in the Uganda Army under former Presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin are suing the Museveni government for $470m in payment arrears. Bamuturaki Musinguzi reports from Kampala.

Under the auspices of the Uganda Army Service Men Development Association (TUASMDA), 45,000 former soldiers have sued President Yoweri Museveni's government for salary arrears, allowances, gratuity, pensions and damages, spanning a period of over 23 years of service.

In the civil suit before Justice Yorokamu Bamwine, the association claims that its members or the next of kin of those who have died should be paid at least $470m in total.

The association, formed in 2002, resorted to the courts when the government failed to agree to settle the matter out of court.

The plaintiffs claim that they are entitled to payments of salary arrears, terminal benefit, gratuity, pension, food rations, clothing, travelling and professional allowances, with interest, as well as legal costs to cover the suit. They also want the court to order the government to issue them with discharge certificates.

But the defence ministry has dismissed the suit, saying that the soldiers should not have sued the government at all because they had been receiving gratuity from the state all along.

Major Shaban Bantariza, a defence spokesman, said: "They are wasting time because the ministry of defence has been paying them their gratuity. How can they turn round and sue the government? They can only sue the attorney general if they want to be paid on time but not for non-payment." But the plaintiffs argue that following the country's political change in 1979 when President Museveni took over power, they were disarmed and taken to various prisons in the country.

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They were subsequently told to report to their district commissioners and advised to wait for further deployment. Since then, they have not been deployed in spite of their readiness to serve the nation, or dimisssed, discharged, suspended or interdicted from service.

They now say the failure to be deployed or paid, has made their lives difficult both socially and economically. Their association has some important members, including the former ambassador to DRCongo, Colonel Kemis Weni; the former minister of education, Brig. Banabus Kili; the current Uganda Boxing Federation president, Vincent Byaruhanga; the former national footballer and coach, Polly Ouma and Paul Ssali.

The association bases its figures on the 2001 defence ministry pension entitlernents for retiring officers and men who have served for 13 years or over. For example, two major generals who are the highest-ranking members of the association, should by 2003 have been each entitled to $820,512 in salary, pension arrears and gratuity.

By convention, all soldiers who have served in the past are deemed to be part of the current Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF, the new designation under Museveni), in accordance with the 1992 National Resistance Army (NRA) Statute. But the defence ministry denies that the plaintiffs are in the employment of the UPDF and, therefore, could not be deployed.

"We are praying that the judge makes a pronouncement on the rights of soldiers so that if they are not in service, they are retired honourably", says John Matovu, one of the soldiers' lawyers.

Financial difficulties have been mounting at the Ministry of Defence in the past few years. The army stopped its retirement scheme because it could not raise $58m to pay retired officers. Some senior officers are facing a court martial charged with embezzling funds.
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Title Annotation:Uganda
Author:Musinguzi, Bamuturaki
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:546
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