History will judge us fairly on S. Sudan - Maj Gen Muhoozi

Mission accomplished. Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has withdrawn from South Sudan where they had deployed in December 2013. The Ugandan army propped up the regime of South Sudan president Salva Kiir which was on the verge of collapse. But in August, the warring parties signed an agreement that directed all foreign troops to leave South Sudan in 45 days. Risdel Kasasira talked to Maj Gen David Muhoozi, the Commander Land Forces, from Juba as UPDF withdrew its last contingent recently.

Sunday November 15 2015

The Commander Land Forces, Maj Gen David

The Commander Land Forces, Maj Gen David Muhoozi. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE 

By Risdel Kasasira

Won’t UPDF withdrawal leave a security vacuum in South Sudan?
Hopefully there won’t be a vacuum. We have made all the arrangements with the government of South Sudan and our partners will not leave room for security vacuum. The government forces will be in the areas where we have been, like Bor which they have already taken over, then Nesitu and Juba, which we are going to vacate today [October 30].

The Riek Machar group claims you have left some soldiers behind in Bor, disguising as SPLA.
That’s a wild allegation. Why would we leave our soldiers there? It would put our soldiers at risk. There is no reason at all to leave our soldiers behind because it’s risky. It serves no purpose.

There are reports of the warring parties preparing to fight in Bor after your withdrawal
There is anxiety, but with time the situation will calm down. There are reports of cattle theft in the area. In Jonglei State, there are many instances of cattle rustling. But other than that, it’s still calm.

Has the UN force deployed to take over from you?
Not exactly where we have been. The UN force is not an interposition force. It’s supposed to do its usual role of peacekeeping, unless otherwise mandated to take on a peace enforcement role.

When UPDF deployed in South Sudan, government gave different reasons, including evacuating stranded Ugandans, being invited by the South Sudan government and for Uganda’s security. Now that you have withdrawn, are Uganda’s security interests catered for?
Of course, there will always be that anxiety. I wouldn’t say the security scare that made us deploy is completely diminished. It is residual. It’s there. There are some developments in Equatorial region which borders Uganda. There are some flashpoints that we worry about.

But having said that, what happened in December 2013 is different from now. The situation is calmer. In 2013, we were doing firefighting. Things would have erupted and the situation would have been worse for Uganda.

Like you said, we have an interest in stability of this country [South Sudan]. We more or less midwifed the independence of this country. That’s a fact. This was also a safe haven for our enemies. So, we had the reason to deploy. That’s why we have convergence interests. The Sudanese had an interest in self-preservation but we also wanted to secure our backyard.

Our coming helped avert genocide. We evacuated Ugandans who were trapped. We helped to create an environment for peaceful settlement. So, we are glad that we came and saved the situation. I think we shall be vindicated by history and posterity.

Which new developments in the Equatorial region are you talking about?
There are some groups attacking SPLA positions and traffic. That one being near our border is more worrisome if it escalates. But we are carefully watching the situation.

Is there a possibility of LRA leader Joseph Kony coming back to South Sudan and later on northern Uganda and cause havoc?
LRA’s fighting power is diminished. But he still retains capacity to cause trouble as a proxy to some negative forces in the region. But as far as Uganda is concerned, it’s not possible for Kony to get rejuvenated and cause trouble to northern Uganda. He can’t.

Other than fighting alongside SPLA, which other areas have you been working with SPLA?
Other than the initial fighting we did as we advanced towards Bor, we have not fought again. There is a bilateral agreement between the two militaries and the ministries of defence to cater for things like training. But it has not taken effect, it is still on paper and we are still looking forward to implementing it. Where we can train them to enhance their capacity, we gladly would because we are partners.

How will you train them when you are not here?
We will train them back home [in Uganda]. We have always done it for our partners. We have trained Somalis, even SPLA; we give them slots in our colleges: Junior Staff College, Senior Staff College and Cadet Course. We train them. If there is need, especially NCOs [non-commissioned officers], we can train them to the requisite capacity so that they can handle their matters.

You fought the rebels once and after the battle, UPDF said it had lost nine soldiers. But there are reports that continue coming up that you lost more than 50
We lost nine soldiers at Palek and a score who were injured. But that’s the number we lost.

Sources say in that battle you killed so many rebels. In fact, some people called it a massacre
I wouldn’t celebrate a massacre. But war is war. It’s so unfortunate that people die. If only we could avoid war and resolve differences through talks, it would be much better. What happened, happened. But we are happy it ended and there is stability. We hope it translates into peace forever.

Human Rights Watch says you used the internationally banned cluster bombs?
I saw that report. It was a contradiction itself. On one side, they we saying UPDF was using cluster bombs but on another side, they were saying there were many players in the conflict and in possession of cluster bombs. First of all, we don’t have cluster bombs and secondly, we didn’t use them in that operation.

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