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Kenya Expels 2 Top Ugandan Diplomats : Move Caps Tension, Fighting on Border; Libyan Mission Closed

December 19, 1987|SCOTT KRAFT | Times Staff Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya — The government of Kenya expelled Uganda's top two diplomats here Friday, capping months of mounting tension between the two governments and a week of border skirmishes.

In a related move, Kenya closed the Libyan Embassy after accusing it of "gross interference" in Kenya's internal affairs.

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi has repeatedly accused Uganda and Libya of plotting against his pro-Western government. Since May, Kenya has expelled six Libyan diplomats, including the charge d'affaires, for alleged spying.

Moi also has long been suspicious of left-leaning Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's links with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. The Kenya Times, owned by Moi's political party, reported this week that Libyan troops have been supporting Museveni's forces in battles against anti-government rebels in northern and eastern Uganda.

Moi and Museveni have recently accused each other of hiding and aiding rebels, a charge that both deny. They also blame each other for starting the trouble that has led to exchanges of gunfire this week at the border town of Busia.

The two sides disagree on the extent of casualties at Busia. Kenya says its policemen have killed at least 47 Ugandan soldiers, but Uganda said Friday that only three of its soldiers had been killed.

Kenya has accused the Ugandan army of everything from spying to abducting Kenyans to cattle rustling on the border, over which more than 2,000 Ugandans have crossed to escape internal fighting in their country.

However, Museveni said his troops were stationed on the border to ensure that Ugandan rebels did not attack his country from Kenya. His remarks, made through the Ugandan High Commission in Nairobi this week and attributed to the high commissioner, Charles K. Katungi, apparently triggered Friday's expulsions.

Kenya said that Katungi had heaped "incredible insult on the person of His Excellency President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi."

Katungi said Friday that allegations of Libyan involvement on the border were "absolutely ridiculous." He added that his ouster marked the most serious upset in Kenyan-Ugandan ties since they gained their independence from Britain in the early 1960s. Katungi's deputy was also expelled, and the Kenyan Foreign Ministry said that it is recalling the Kenyan ambassador from Kampala.

The Weekly Review, a newsmagazine, said in its Friday issue that "most observers think the two countries are on the brink of war." But Western diplomats in Nairobi describe the conflict as only the latest in a series of flare-ups between the two former British colonies. Although leaders of the two countries dislike each other, the diplomats doubt that war is imminent, because the two are interdependent and neither has designs on the other's territory.

Kenya is the economic lifeline for landlocked Uganda. Ugandan coffee is transported over Kenyan roads to the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, and imported goods such as gasoline reach Uganda through Kenya.

Kenya has long been regarded as one of the United States' closest allies in sub-Sahara Africa. The country is Africa's most popular tourist destination, with more than 600,000 European and American visitors every year.

Over the past two years, however, Moi has grown increasingly concerned about subversive activity in his country. He has cracked down on a clandestine internal group, known as Mwakenya, that he says is Communist inspired, and he worries that Libya may use Ugandan territory to destabilize Kenya.

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