South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar’s negotiating team has demanded that Uganda takes a neutral position and withdraws troops from Juba.
A member of Machar’s negotiation team, Dr Dhieu Mathok Ding Wol, said Uganda was medalling in “an internal conflict for good governance” and saying Uganda’s military presence in the country was an obstacle to the IGAD brokered peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“Uganda supported the people of South Sudan in their quest for independence. I believe President Museveni and the people of Uganda did not support individuals, otherwise the support would have died with Dr John Garang (fallen SPLA leader),” Dr Wol said. He added: “The position of President Museveni on the conflict in South Sudan is affecting even the peace process mediated by IGAD in Addis Ababa. He is an elder brother whose word is heard by all if only he can take a neutral position.”
Dr Wol, a Peace and Conflict resolution scholar, told the Daily Monitor in an interview that “it seems the conflict of interest is completely misunderstood by the government in Kampala.”
Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa and his Defence counterpart, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, could not be reached for comment as they did not pick their known mobile phone numbers. International relations minister, Henry Okello Oryem asked for more time to consult before making a comment.
The ministry of Defence spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda declined to comment on the rebel demands, saying he was in a meeting. However, Col Ankunda had last week told the Daily Monitor that Uganda deployed in South Sudan to secure Ugandans who had been trapped and to coordinate their evacuation.
The head of government’s Media Center, Mr Ofwono Opondo, dismissed the rebels’ demands and advised them to either stick to the negotiating table or face the wrath of IGAD member states.
“Uganda cannot and will not withdraw until peace is realised in the country,” Mr Opondo said.
He said it was not Uganda that asked the rebel to pick up a fight emphasising that Uganda has a lot of interests in a peaceful South Sudan. “So those statements by Machar’s group are outrageous and a scapegoat,” Mr Opondo said.
Dr Wol pointed out that while they have hope in a negotiated settlement, President Salva Kiir’s use of force to regain control of the areas under the rebel forces “is detrimental to peace and security”.
President Museveni, on December 30, travelled to Juba where he warned that either Dr Machar embraces the ceasefire plan suggested by President Kiir and endorsed by regional leaders under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) or face the wrath of the regional forces.
The two parties are reported to have agreed on a cessation of hostilities in Addis Ababa but fighting was reported to have been raging on in the flash points of Bor, Bentiu, Yei and Juba.