March 16, 2014 (KAMPALA) – Uganda is ready to withdraw its troops from neighbouring South Sudan once the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) deploys the proposed regional stabilisation force in the troubled nation, its chief of defense forces said.
- General Katumba Wamala, of the UPDF, shakes hands with a soldier during a visit to his troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), January 9, 2013. (Reuters/Tobin Jones/AU-UN IST Photo/Handout)
Gen. Katumba Wamala, however, said the move will depend on how soon the Protection and Deterrent Force (PDF), which will comprise of forces from the IGAD member countries, comes into effect.
"The time frame will depend on how soon the forces which have been tasked land on the ground. I can’t put on dates, weeks. It will depend on how fast we get those troops on the ground,” the army reportedly said.
"What we shouldn’t do and will be regrettable, if we created a vacuum. If we leave without the boots on the ground, it will create a vacuum, that vacuum is very unwelcome," he added.
Uganda deployed a contingent of its army in South Sudan days after violence broke out in the capital, Juba between members of the presidential guard. The conflict later spread to other parts of the country, with three of its 10 states badly affected.
But East African regional heads of states meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa last week authorised the prompt deployment of a Protection and Deterrent Force (PDF) from the region to help restore peace and stability in South Sudan.
The proposed force, according to a communiqué issued during IGAD’s 25th extraordinary session, would operate with a clear mandate and operational guidelines as part of the IGAD Monitoring and Verification Mechanism in the new nation.
The summit, however, called upon the United Nations Security Council and the African Union to provide all the necessary support, calling on the parties to ensure the progressive withdrawal of all armed groups and all allied forces invited by either side from the theatre of operations as per the ceasefire agreement, in accordance with its 31 January communiqué.
Meanwhile, South Sudan has unconditionally accepted deployment of the regional force, despite protest and rejection by the rebel group which has been fighting government for almost three months since a split in ruling party (SPLM) and army (SPLA) plunged the young nation into the mid-December conflict.
"The summit had agreed to do two important things. One is the emphasis on the commitment of the parties to the resolve the conflict through peaceful dialogue, which the government of the republic of South Sudan had already accepted as a principle and formed negotiating team," said Nhial Deng Nhial, South Sudan’s lead negotiator at the Addis Ababa talks.
"We don’t think anyone can object to the regional initiative," he added.
The leader of the SPLM/A-in-Opposition, Riek Machar on Friday condemned the proposed deployments of such forces, warning that it will widen and regionalise the current conflict.
"We reject it and condemn it in the strongest terms. It is an attempt to regionalize the internal conflict," Machar told Sudan Tribune by phone from one of his bases in the oil-producing Upper Nile state.
The rebel leader described IGAD’s decision as "unfortunate" as it interfered in the "internal conflict" between factions of South Sudan’s ruling party and the army.
The rebels had already objected to Uganda’s decision to deploy troops in South Sudan to fight alongside the latter’s army (SPLA) against Machar’s rebels; a loose coalition of armed civilians mobilised mainly on the basis of ethnic affiliations and defectors from the army.
Despite beginning as an internal political argument between rival factions within the ruling SPLM, which was not divided along tribal lines, the conflict has killed around 10,000 people many of whom were targeted because of their ethnic identity.
Last month, the United States called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops involved in the South Sudanese conflict, saying their presence contravenes provisions of a ceasefire agreement its warring parties signed in Addis Ababa on 13 January.
Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia had previously opposed to the presence of Ugandan troops in the new nation with the latter saying their presence threatens regional peace and stability.