January 1, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudanese civil society organisations, along with human and civil rights activists have expressed deep concern over the involvement of neighbouring Uganda, which stands accused of “meddling” in the internal affairs of another country.
- Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni (L), pictured with his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir, has been criticised for meddling in the internal affairs of South Sudan (Photo: AFP/Getty)
In statements to reporters during a visit to the capital, Juba, on Monday, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni said regional leaders had vowed to defeat former vice-president Riek Machar, presently leading a rebel force, threatening collective military action from member states of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) unless he agrees to a ceasefire.
Rebel forces loyal to Machar have now agreed to hold talks after retaking Jonglei capital Bor just hours before the deadline for compliance.
“If the Ugandan president and his government wants to help us to be in peace and harmony as neighbour, he should have pressed hard [for] the two sides to reach a peaceful settlement, but now president Museveni has taken sides”, an activist who did not want to be identified fearing reprisal told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
The activist said military action from outside was unnecessary and the matter should be handled internally.
Meanwhile, another activist blasted Museveni’s statements to the media as irresponsible, saying he should not have commented publicly on military intervention as though South Sudan was a territory under his jurisdiction.
“South Sudan is an independent state and I expected president Museveni to have at least shown diplomacy in his statements to the media”, the activist said.
However, presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny argued that comments criticising the Ugandan president were unjustified and were driven by either political or tribal interests.
In a statement broadcast on state-owned radio and television on Tuesday, Ateny described president Museveni as a “genuine friend” of the South Sudanese people, adding that he is “someone with interest to see that peace prevails in South Sudan”.
In a separate interview with Sudan Tribune on Monday, he stressed Museveni’s statements were made on behalf of IGAD and should not be misconstrued to mean he was speaking on the position of the Ugandan government.
“He (Museveni) was conveying the message from the IGAD member countries. You know that Ethiopian and Kenyan leaders came and had constructive and fruitful discussions with president Salva Kiir about what happened [in South Sudan]”, Ateny said.
Seven IGAD member countries, comprising of Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, are taking a lead role in trying to end the conflict which erupted on 15 December after clashes between rival factions of the presidential guards in Juba.
However, a number of South Sudanese officials have questioned the impartiality of the body after some countries indicated that military action may be necessary to quell the rebellion with military if the rebel faction fails to accept dialogue.
Canada-based commentator on South Sudanese affairs Joseph Nguen opined that statements by the Ugandan president could jeopardise efforts to bring stability to the country through a peaceful means, stressing that mediators should not give ultimatums.
“True mediators don’t give any ultimatum to any side they want to bring to the negotiation table. This is not an impartial position”, Nguen said in reference to Museveni’s remark that the regional leaders had given Machar and his group a deadline to respond to calls for a ceasefire or risk being defeated.
Machar’s group said in their statement that IGAD’s efforts could be compromised by the actions of the Ugandan army.
“If not stopped, the UPDF’s [Uganda People’s Defence Force] aggression may compromise IGAD attempts to remain instrumental and neutral in bringing an end to the crisis in South Sudan”, the statement said.
Thousands of people have either died or been displaced in the conflict which has taken on ethnic undertones, pitting armed forces predominantly from the Dinka tribe loyal to Kiir against members of Machar’s Nuer tribe.