December 27, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudanese armed opposition faction (SPLM-IO) led by former vice-president, Riek Machar, said recent comments by Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, in which he declared to maintain the presence of his forces in the country was unacceptable.
While in Addis Ababa on Friday 26 December for a two-day meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Haile Mariam Desalegn, who also chairs the regional bloc of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Museveni said he will not withdraw his troops until the South Sudanese capital, Juba was secure.
Uganda has been boasting since January that it was the reason for president Salva Kiir to remain in power when they stopped a speedy rebels advance towards the capital after the capture of Bor, Jonglei state’s capital which is 200kms north of Juba.
The rebels were defeating government’s forces in several battles pushing them back up to 90kms towards Juba.
President Museveni still feared that his troops’ withdrawal would leave a vacuum which would make president Kiir’s government vulnerable unless peace is signed or alternative regional troops were deployed in South Sudan.
“The problem is not with Uganda. The problem is peace among (South) Sudanese, and in order to not leave a vacuum we agreed that other IGAD countries should deploy and now they are deploying,” he said in a press conference on Friday in Addis Ababa.
“I think Ethiopian forces are already there (in South Sudan), and Rwanda is there. Once they are ready, and can ensure that at least Juba is not affected … then we shall go back. There is no big issue,” he said.
Uganda as a member state in the IGAD forum also participates in the mediation process to end the war between president Kiir’s government and Machar’s group.
Kampala and Juba also signed a strategic military cooperation agreement which allows the former to purchase weapons on behalf of the latter.
President Kiir’s government has also expressed rejection to withdraw Ugandan troops from the country even though the two warring parties have since 23 January agreed in the peace talks to withdraw all foreign forces.
However, Machar’s opposition faction reiterated they wanted Ugandan troops to withdraw unconditionally, repeating accusations that the neighbouring country violently meddled in the South Sudanese internal affairs.
“Our leadership since January has been calling on Uganda to withdraw its troops. We have reiterated this in a resolution passed on 12 December in Pagak’s conference. Their continuous interference in the internal conflict and occupation of parts of South Sudan is unacceptable,” said Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak.
Dak said the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) never prevented war crimes and atrocities against civilians as they claimed, claiming that the foreign troops had been instead helping president Kiir “to commit more genocide”.
“UPDF defended Kiir’s bad leadership and gave him a breathing space. They have been defending the regime in Bor and Juba. They have been carrying out bombings indiscriminately against civilian populations in various targets in the country and even using internationally banned cluster bombs,” he lamented.
Dak further added that Ugandan government should stop “pretending” to be part of peaceful solution in the IGAD mediation, saying it is part of the problem as their leadership continues to take Juba’s side.
He said the rebel group will not accept deployment of regional troops that “pursue their own interests to expand the war”, stressing this would amount to occupation and colonisation of South Sudan, which he said will see stiff resistance from the “freedom fighters.”
Talks brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are to resume next January as regional leaders prepare to put pressure on the parties to sign a peace agreement.
The discussions are deadlocked over the attributions of a prime minister to be appointed by the rebels.
The SPLM-IO say they want a president with limited executive powers which should be granted to the would be prime minister.