UPDF deploys along Juba-Nimule corridor
Posted Saturday, December 28 2013 at 02:00
Foreign Affairs state minister says they have soldiers guarding the corridor and whoever tries to attack Ugandans will be dealt with.
Ugandan soldiers have been deployed in the “corridor” between the South Sudan capital, Juba and the border town of Nimule, to provide a safe passage for Ugandans to return home, a minister has told Saturday Monitor. “We have men on the ground protecting the corridor from Juba to Nimule. Whoever tries to attack Ugandans in that corridor will pay the penalty,” Mr Henry Okello Oryem, the minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of International Affairs, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Mr Oryem was among a group of foreign ministers from the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) countries who went to Juba to explore ways for the peaceful resolution of the conflict which broke out between President Salva Kiir and his opponents led by former vice president Riek Machar. Mr Oryem’s statement is a new development with regard to the role of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) in the South Sudan conflict.
The army had earlier said that it had only gone to Juba with permission from the government of South Sudan to evacuate Ugandans.
Confirming the deployment, army spokesperson Lt Col Paddy Ankunda said last week: “Uganda has deployed troops in Juba to facilitate the evacuation mission of stranded Ugandans and Kenyans, most of whom are injured.” But some reports have accused Ugandan Forces of participating in the fighting on the side of President Kiir.
Mr Oryem denied these allegations and did not say how many soldiers were deployed in South Sudan to secure the almost 200km stretch from Nimule to Juba.
He also did not say whether Ugandan troops had been engaged in any direct combat operations along the Juba-Nimule corridor.
At least 450 Ugandans were evacuated by the UPDF from Sudan last week after the army flew several flights of its C130 transporter plane from Juba to Entebbe.
Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba told Saturday Monitor last week that 3,434 Ugandans, 922 Kenyans, 328 South Sudanese and 21 nationals of different countries were evacuated by road between December 18 and 19. They crossed into Uganda through the Eregu-Nimule border, where the minister now says Uganda has secured the corridor.
International media has reported that ethnic rivalry and possible ethnic cleansing could be on the cards in South Sudan, accusing government soldiers of targeting members of Mr Machar’s Nuer ethnic group. It is estimated that at least 1,000 people have died since the fighting broke out on Dec 15.
However, some say that blaming the fighting only on ethnicity misses the point, since some members of Mr Kiir’s ethnic group, most notably Ms Rebecca Garang, are also opposed to him. Ms Garang is the widow of John Garang, the man who led the rebellion that resulted in the secession of South Sudan from Sudan.
Regional leaders efforts
Leaders from Igad, including President Museveni, met in Nairobi yesterday to discuss the report prepared by their foreign ministers who visited South Sudan.
In a space of three days, the foreign ministers met with President Kiir and Ms Garang but did not manage to make contact with Mr Machar.
The United Nations also announced efforts to expand its peace keeping mission in South Sudan.
Background to the fighting
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir sacked Mr Riek Machar and the entire cabinet in July, escalating the deep-seated hostility between the camps and resulting in the current fighting. Some accounts blame the misunderstanding on ethnic differences, since Mr Kiir comes from the Dinka ethnic group while Mr Machar is Nuer, the second largest ethnic group after the Dinka.