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Diplomatic glitch after government agrees to take in Afghan refugees

Foreign ministry initiative creates tensions with the presidency in Entebbe

President Yoweri Museveni's government may have seen a chance to curry favour with the United States by quickly agreeing to take in 2,000 refugees fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power there. But the move angered President Museveni when it emerged that miscommunications with a junior minister over the arrangements had bounced Uganda's government into making the offer.

'The request was made yesterday by the US government to H.E. [President Museveni] and he has given them an OK to bring 2,000 refugees to Uganda,' government minister Esther Anyakun Davinia told Reuters, adding that 'they are going to be here temporarily for three months before the US government resettles them elsewhere.'

That was news to Museveni. Foreign minister Jeje Odongo has since rowed back on the promise, insisting that the resettlement plan has not been finally agreed with the US. Odongo's deputy, Oryem Okello, told reporters on Thursday that 'they are not refugees; the US asked us on whether we could take them in temporarily as they are vetted possibly for relocation.'

The first group of 500 Afghans had been expected to arrive in Uganda on Monday night, but are yet to arrive. Uganda was the first of six African countries that the US asked to host fleeing Afghan nationals to agree.

Following sustained US government criticism of the intimidation and arrest of opposition leaders and allegation of vote rigging in January's disputed presidential elections, Museveni may have seen a chance to strengthen his position and repair relations with Washington (AC Vol 62 No 11, Cracks in the ruling party). Failing to agree on the terms of the refugee assistance programme would be an embarrassing setback.

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