Uganda will not withdraw its troops from South Sudan as demanded by the US government, military and foreign affairs officials have said.
US President Barack Obama’s government at the weekend issued a strongly-worded statement, calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces that have been deployed to quell the internal conflict between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
“We urge the redeployment or phased withdrawal of foreign forces invited by either side, and warn of the serious consequences which could result from any regionalisation of this conflict,” said Ms Jen Psaki, a State Department spokesperson, in the statement.
Whereas the statement did not directly mention Uganda, the UPDF is currently the only foreign force deployed in South Sudan, fighting alongside troops loyal to President Kiir.
The army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, yesterday said Uganda would stick to what was agreed by regional leaders.
“We went to help South Sudanese people when everybody else ran away. Now here they are giving us orders. We will follow the Addis Ababa agreement in consultation with the South Sudan government. We are members of Igad and cannot violate our own agreement,” he said.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), which has brokered a temporary ceasefire between the warring groups, recently approved the deployment of a 5,500 strong force to keep the truce.
It was not clear whether Uganda’s troops already in South Sudan would automatically be part of this force. Mr Machar’s group has continuously demanded the UPDF withdraws as one of the conditions for observing a truce.
The government position was reinforced by Mr Fred Opolot, the spokesperson of the Foreign Affairs ministry, who said the UPDF will stay put because of the possible implications of the conflict in South Sudan on Uganda’s economy and security.
“The instability in South Sudan makes Uganda vulnerable to negative forces like the LRA who could re-enter the country and Uganda cannot allow that to happen,” said Mr Opolot.
“African problems warrant African solutions but with the support of the international community, Uganda will continue to work under the Igad arrangement until peace returns to South Sudan,” he added.
Mr Opolot also said Uganda had entered South Sudan with the blessing of President Kiir and that it had also received clearance from regional governments to protect key installations in the restive nation.
Asked for the Presidency’s view on the US demand, the President’s spokesperson, Mr Tamale Mirundi, said: “The President’s decision to deploy in South Sudan was endorsed by Parliament. I would be worried if the US said if Uganda does not leave South Sudan, we will declare war. It is just an opinion, for the sake of big power politics.”
Norway recently made a similar call to have the UPDF withdrawn from South Sudan which went largely unnoticed. The US pronouncement, however, is significant considering its economic and security ties with Uganda. For example, the US is the largest funder of Uganda’s mission in Somalia, where the UPDF is heading a regional peace-keeping mission.
Ms Psaki also raised concern over repeated claims of violations of the ceasefire agreement by both South Sudan’s government and rebels. Meanwhile, negotiations between Kiir’s government and the rebels are scheduled to resume on February 13 in Addis Ababa.
There is no more fighting in south sudan, says updf
The UPDF has said a combined force of the Ugandan army and the SPLA has weakened the South Sudan rebels and pushed them to a far-away place from which they cannot fight anymore.
The UPDF spokesperson, Col Paddy Ankunda, while reacting to claims by the rebels that they had hit a Ugandan helicopter gunship, killing a Lance Corporal who was a gunner, dismissed the claim as a pack of lies.
“There is no fighting and that is why the rebels have resorted to telling lies. You know it is easier to say you have shot down a plane when there is no shoot out,” Col Ankunda said.
The cessation in fighting has been attributed to a recently signed truce during peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Ugandan helicopter was allegedly damaged on Friday afternoon in the South Sudanese central State of Lakes, the rebels’ spokesperson, Brig Gen Lul Ruai Koang, told the Sudan Tribune.
The attack is said to have occurred after three Ugandan gunships carried out bombings on defecting soldiers that were moving towards Unity state to join the rebel forces in the area.
Gen Koang says the rebel air defence artillery opened fire on the three warplanes seriously wounding 1 and killing a gunner. “The collected passport and ID of the dead gunner identified him as Jona Abuduku Alfred, a Ugandan national with military ID No. 21883, passport No. 11180 and a Lance Corporal in military rank. His hometown is Mbale in Uganda and joined the Ugandan Air Force in 1997, the documents obtained show,” the Sudan tribune reported.
However, Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson Pamela Ankunda rubbished the rebels claims as cheap propaganda. “It’s very cheap war propaganda. Ugandan soldiers don’t go to the frontline with passports. Secondly, our passports start with alphabetical letters; DA for diplomats and BO for ordinary. They got it wrong and it shows they are losing the war at the frontline and in the media,” Ms Ankunda said. Last month, Museveni President said the army had been deployed to stop a genocide and secure Uganda’s trade partner.
Additional reporting by Dear Jeanne, Monitor