Kampala. The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) deployed in South Sudan are undergoing intensive drills in readiness for a looming war in South Sudan.
The security situation in the Africa’s newest nation has remained fragile after protracted peace talks between rivals president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar hit a dead end recently.
A statement issued by the UPDF on Wednesday said the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala who was in South Sudan to visit his troops, found them undergoing intense training. The warring parties have signed peace deals four times but none has been implemented.
“While at Bor in Jonglei State, Gen Katumba found the troops engrossed in intensive training including shooting range practice,” the statement said.
Military sources say the Ugandan troops do not want to be taken by surprise, in case they are attacked. The warring parties in South Sudan failed to agree on power sharing two weeks ago, triggering fears that there would degenerate into fresh violence.
The statement said Gen Wamala was impressed by UPDF battle-readiness and force protection capability. “I thank you for training hard because it is what makes UPDF fight easily,’’ the statement quoted him.
The UN Security Council has threatened to impose sanctions on the principals in the conflict that has displaced thousands of people.
Gen Wamala visited UPDF bases in Juba, Nisitu and Bor where he also met Ugandan traders who have been previously attacked by armed groups in South Sudan.
There are more than 8,000 Ugandan traders operating in Gumbo market and another more than 3,000 in Bor Town, the chairman of Ugandan traders in Bor, Hajji Hassan Iddi Mutebi, told Gen Katumba.
Brig Kayanja Muhanga, the commander of Ugandan troops in South Sudan, said the security situation in all areas where UPDF is deployed was calm but said there were skirmishes in Upper Nile and Unity States following the failed peace deal.
When asked about the implication of the failed peace deal, the South Sudan Ambassador in Uganda, Mr Samuel Luate Lominsuk, said he would give an interview on the sticky issue soon. Gen Katumba also met the SPLA Chief of General Staff, Gen Malong at the Military General Headquarters in Juba and Security minister, Gen Obutu Mamur.
In response to UPDF’s continued support to Kiir, Dr Machar said yesterday President Museveni was better off as a mediator and not a party to the conflict.
“When I met President Museveni last December, I told him that he committed a mistake by fighting along with Salva Kiir regime. I reminded him of an African tradition that if younger brothers fight the elder one must come in to separate them not to take side. I don’t think UPDF have a genuine cause to die in South Sudan. This is a brotherly war and they shouldn’t interfere at all. I am appealing to Ugandans to stop President Museveni from interfering in the South Sudan internal conflict,” Dr Machar said.
There has been controversy on who picks the bills for UPDF operational costs in South Sudan but Gen Katumba said in January Juba meets costs for fuel for operations.
South Sudanese lawmakers on Tuesday passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015, extending for more three years president Salva Kiir’s mandate in office. President Kiir’s term, according to South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution, officially ends on 9 July. This prompted the introduction of the Bill, which sought to extend the president’s term in office for two additional years.