The Uganda People’s Defence Force will only leave South Sudan if there is an alternative security arrangement, Maj Gen David Muhoozi, the commander of Land Forces has said.
“We do not need to be stampeded out of South Sudan without a mechanism to maintain order,” he said, raising fears a sudden UPDF withdrawal could plunge the country back into violence and derail the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“You cannot talk in the middle of chaos,” Gen Muhoozi said in an interview on Wednesday at the UPDF camp at the military Airbase in Juba.
His comments come at a time when it has become apparent that the regional force proposed to replace UPDF may not be ready to deploy by the April timeline.
The US, Norway and Ethiopia are among the countries that have questioned Uganda’s continued presence in South Sudan and have called for them to leave, warning their partisan presence in the country risks spiraling the fighting into a regional conflict.
Gen Muhoozi flew to South Sudan on what he called a “routine working” trip, and has since visited UPDF battle group’s farthest outpost in Bor, about 203 kilometres out of the capital, Juba. Bor bore the bloodiest brunt of the violence.
Ugandan troops deployed in South Sudan five months ago and helped stabilise President Salva Kiir’s government then shaken by an army mutiny that saw hundreds of SPLA soldiers breaking ranks to join a rebel group led by Dr Riek Machar, the country’s former vice president.
UPDF intervention. The UPDF intervention in South Sudan has helped prop up pro-government SPLA soldiers to hold off rebels that had re-grouped and were marching on Juba. This has created a lull in the fighting, helping the protagonists to attempt a political solution through dialogue.
Regional efforts. The regional bloc, IGAD, is brokering talks in Addis Ababa that has proposed a yet-to-be constituted regional military force to substitute the UPDF.
The initial Forces Status Agreement under which UPDF deployed does not specify how long they will stay in South Sudan.