January 16, 2014 (KAMPALA) - President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday revealed that the Ugandan army has been actively fighting South Sudanese rebels led by the former vice-president Riek Machar.
- 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)
Museveni also disclosed that Ugandan soldiers were killed and others injured when the Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) engaged the rebels just 90 kilometres outside Juba, just a day before parliament approved Uganda’s deployment in the world’s youngest nation.
He added that the Ugandan soldiers were killed and others injured when the UPDF engaged the rebels just 90 kilometres outside Juba.
"Only the other day, 13 January, the SPLA and elements of our army had a big battle with the rebel troops about 90km from Juba where we inflicted a big lost on the side of the rebels", Museveni said in a speech also obtained by Sudan Tribune.
"We also took casualties and had some dead," he added, but gave no figures.
Machar has denounced the direct involvement of the Ugandan troops fighting against his forces alongside Salva Kiir’s army. He demanded their withdrawal from the country as a condition to accept the cessation of hostilities.
Machar also said on Tuesday the combined SPLA and Ugandan troops backed by six UPDF helicopter gunships, dozens of tanks and other heavy artilleries were defeated near Mongala in Central Equatoria state on Juba-Bor road.
President Museveni’s admission of direct involvement came while he was addressing the heads of state during the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in the Angolan capital of Luanda on Wednesday.
Museveni’s admission that Uganda is fighting on the side of President Salva Kiir confirms claims by MPs that Uganda was actively involved in fighting in South Sudan and had lost soldiers in the crisis that started on 15 December in Juba.
The army has strongly denied it is involved in any combat operations in South Sudan.
Questioned by Daily Monitor newspaper on the developments, defence minister Crispus Kiyonga deflected the question to the army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, who said: “Well, the president has said it. Details are scanty at the moment but all I can say is that our forces had a very successful battle.”
Museveni said on Wednesday that the South Sudanese government, with the support from UPDF, had regained control of Jemeza in Central Equatoria state the on Juba-Bor road.
He also accused Machar of planning and executing the failed coup, saying “The question is; if Riek Machar did not plan a coup in Juba, then why did his supporters capture Malakal, Bor, Akobo, etc?”
However, Machar dismissed the alleged coup attempt, saying the fighting between presidential guards was used as a ploy by Kiir to get rid of his political opponents within the ruling party. Many South Sudanese also believe that Museveni masterminded the plan duped as a failed coup.
WASHINGTON CONFIRMS DEPLOYMENT
In testimony to The Congress on Wednesday, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield confirmed the involvement of the Ugandan army in the current conflict in South Sudan.
Answering a question by congressman Randy Weber, she said that Uganda told Washington they want to protect key structures on the Juba-Nimule road which leads to Uganda and Juba airport.
"They indicated they have an interest in a stable South Sudan but also said they have an interest in ensuring that a democratically elected government is not overturned by violent means", she added.
Weber was the only congressman during the hearing to raise the Ugandan intervention in the inter-South Sudanese conflict, others including the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee stopped on the possible Sudanese role in the conflict but Greenfield dismissed any involvement from Khartoum side.
However, during her presentation to the committee she was keen to omit mentioning the name of the Sudanese mediator Mohamed Ahmed al-Dabi who is the third member of the IGAD panel of mediators to end the conflict.
"We are encouraged by IGAD’s leadership in convening the parties and strongly support the efforts of former Ethiopian minister Seyoum Mesfin and Kenyan general Lazaro Sumbeiywo to find a peaceful solution through political dialogue", she said.