South Sudan rebels will “regret” if they dare attack the strategic town of Bor, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) has warned.
The warning sounded yesterday by the UPDF spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, came after South Sudan president Salva Kiir sacked his army boss and military intelligence chief in face of renewed fighting between his forces and the rebels.
The UPDF, which is fighting alongside Mr Kiir’s soldiers, has its forward base in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.
In mid-December, Mr Riek Machar, who had earlier been dropped as vice president by Mr Kiir, announced an insurrection to overthrow the government. What began as an alleged army mutiny in the country’s capital Juba quickly spread into widespread fighting across several states.
A ceasefire brokered by the regional authority IGAD in January has recently been abrogated as both sides resumed fighting which, according to the UN, could have seen more than 200 civilians killed and another 400 wounded.
Responding to reports that the rebels were planning an assault on the UPDF bases, Lt Col Ankunda said the idea would boomerang.
“They will regret if they dare to attack Bor. They know what we are capable of,” Lt Col Ankunda told the Daily Monitor yesterday.
The UPDF warning came amidst reports that president Kiir had sacked his army chief of staff, Gen James Hoth Mai, whom he had replaced with Gen Paul Malong, while the top military spy chief, Gen Paul Mach, had been replaced with Gen Marial Nour Jok.
There was no official explanation for the sackings although media reports linked them to continued setbacks suffered by government troops in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states against the rebels.
The South Sudan army (SPLA) spokesperson, Col Phillip Aguer, however, told the Daily Monitor in a phone interview yesterday that government forces had recaptured Mayom in Unity State, Akuai-Beng in Jonglei and Rieu in Upper Nile near the Sudan border. We could not independently verify these claims.
Bor is a critical town because of the Jonglei Channel that connects South and North Sudan and is the main business channel for both countries.
The Khartoum government has also denied reports that the rebels, who recently captured Bentiu Town, were training in Heglig, a territory controlled by the Sudan authorities.
The capture of Bentiu, which is about 1,000kms from Juba, was proceeded with killing of civilians—forcing the United Nations to threaten sanctions on those behind the massacres.
Asked if they could help secure Bentiu, Lt Col Ankunda said that would stretch the UPDF, given the distance.
But even as the fighting rages far-away in South Sudan, a diplomatic spat has emerged between Kampala and Khartoum after the latterlast week recalled its ambassador in Uganda following allegations that Kampala was backing the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels, who are hostile to the government of Omar al-Bashir.
On Wednesday, however, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi told Parliament that Khartoum had resumed supporting Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. He told MPs that Uganda had asked the Organisation of Islamic Countries, to which both states belong, to arbitrate in the matter.
The Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary, Mr James Mugume, yesterday expressed optimism the matter would be fixed. “Consultations are on-going. We should be able to resolve this matter,” he said.
Mr Mugume also denied that Uganda was supporting SRF but admitted that the families of the rebels were staying in Uganda.
“The fact that their families are here doesn’t mean we are supporting the rebels. When President Museveni was fighting in the bush, his family was in Sweden. Did this mean Sweden was supporting Museveni?” he asked.
The Sudanese embassy officials in Kampala said they were not able to respond to these issues because the ambassador was out of office and his deputy was in a meeting.