Uganda to US: We won’t leave South Sudan

Uganda People's Defence Forces officers with captured weapons after a battle near Bor in South Sudan. PHOTO | COURTESY | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The UPDF is currently the only foreign force deployed in South Sudan, fighting alongside troops loyal to President Kiir
  • The army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, on Sunday said Uganda would stick to what was agreed by regional leaders

KAMPALA

Uganda will not withdraw its troops from South Sudan as demanded by the US government, military and foreign affairs officials have said.

US President Barack Obama’s government at the weekend issued a strongly-worded statement, calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces that have been deployed to quell the internal conflict between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. (READ: US calls for withdrawal of foreign forces from S. Sudan)

“We urge the redeployment or phased withdrawal of foreign forces invited by either side, and warn of the serious consequences which could result from any regionalisation of this conflict,” said Ms Jen Psaki, a State Department spokesperson, in the statement.

Whereas the statement did not directly mention Uganda, the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) is currently the only foreign force deployed in South Sudan, fighting alongside troops loyal to President Kiir.

The army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, on Sunday said Uganda would stick to what was agreed by regional leaders.

“We went to help South Sudanese people when everybody else ran away. Now here they are giving us orders. We will follow the Addis Ababa agreement in consultation with the South Sudan government. We are members of Igad and cannot violate our own agreement,” he said.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), which has brokered a temporary ceasefire between the warring groups, recently approved the deployment of a 5,500 strong force to keep the truce.

It was not clear whether Uganda’s troops already in South Sudan would automatically be part of this force. Mr Machar’s group has continuously demanded the UPDF withdraws as one of the conditions for observing a truce.

GOVERNMENT'S TAKE

The government position was reinforced by Mr Fred Opolot, the spokesperson of the Foreign Affairs ministry, who said the UPDF will stay put because of the possible implications of the conflict in South Sudan on Uganda’s economy and security.

“The instability in South Sudan makes Uganda vulnerable to negative forces like the LRA who could re-enter the country and Uganda cannot allow that to happen,” said Mr Opolot.

“African problems warrant African solutions but with the support of the international community, Uganda will continue to work under the Igad arrangement until peace returns to South Sudan,” he added.

Mr Opolot also said Uganda had entered South Sudan with the blessing of President Kiir and that it had also received clearance from regional governments to protect key installations in the restive nation.

Asked for the Presidency’s view on the US demand, the President’s spokesperson, Mr Tamale Mirundi, said: “The President’s decision to deploy in South Sudan was endorsed by Parliament. I would be worried if the US said if Uganda does not leave South Sudan, we will declare war. It is just an opinion, for the sake of big power politics.”

Reported by Barbara Among and Dear Jeanne. For the full report, go to www.monitor.co.ug

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