May 23, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s defence minister, Kuol Manyang Juuk, travelled to Kampala on Thursday where he said he plans to hold discussions on Uganda’s ongoing military involvement in the country since political tensions turned violent in mid-December last year.
- The presidents of Uganda and South Sudan Yoweri Museveni (L) and Salva Kiir walk side by side (Photo: Getty Images)
The Ugandan army (UPDF) deployed troops to the country to fight alongside the national army (SPLA), which is locked in an armed struggle against rebel forces, comprising largely of dissident soldiers and ethnic militias, seeking to remove president Salva Kiir from power.
Juuk’s visit comes after the latest round of peace talks between South Sudan’s warring parties was postponed until 29 May amid continued disagreements over the presence of foreign troop.
Rebels accuse Uganda of meddling in the internal affairs of South Sudan, saying the continued presence of UPDF forces is in violation of an earlier ceasefire deal signed in January.
Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia have also previously expressed their opposition to the presence of Ugandan troops in the new nation, with the latter saying their presence threatens regional peace and stability.
Speaking to journalists at Juba international airport prior to his departure, Juuk said he hopes to hold “frank discussions” with his Ugandan counterpart and relevant institutions and authorities.
“I am going for [a] bilateral visit with my counterpart on military cooperation. You know we have issues that require consultation and discussions to see how we can go about them, especially relating to security matters,” Juuk told reporters on Thursday.
He described South Sudan’s military relationship with Uganda as “solid”, saying the two countries would continue their robust cooperation on military training and joint operational plans
“There is already a cooperation agreement to continue to equip, modernise and train our forces to confront threats,” he said.
The SPLA’s chief of general staff, Paul Malong Awan, has also recently returned from neighbouring Kenya, where he went for a similar visit to discuss security issues with his Kenyan counterpart in the capital, Nairobi.
The visits of the two top security officials come amid sustained mounting local and international pressure on the government to order the pull out of foreign troops from the country.
ANGER AT MUSEVENI COMMENTS
Meanwhile, there is growing pubic outcry in South Sudan over disparaging comments attributed to the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni that he would hang himself if the security situation in his country reached the same level as that in South Sudan and several other troubled African nations.
The comments have drawn condemnation on social media networks and online forums where they were described as demeaning to the South Sudanese people.
The Ugandan leader is believed to have made the comments last week while speaking at a grand final campaign rally for the National Resistance Movement’s female flag bearer, Rebecca Nalwanga, in the grounds of the Zirobwe Town Council.
“I have never called the United Nations to guard your security. Me, Yoweri Museveni, to say that I have failed to protect my people and I call in the UN … I would rather hang myself. We prioritised national security by developing a strong army otherwise our Uganda would be like DRC, South Sudan, Somalia or Nigeria where militias have disappeared with school children. It would be a vote of no confidence to our country and citizens if we can’t guarantee our security. What kind of persons would we be?” different media sources quoted Museveni as saying.
The remarks have been met with mixed reactions in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, with some government officials describing it as a direct attack on the leadership of the country, while others argue the comments, although humiliating to South Sudan, are based on fact.
“What do you say? These are [the] facts. President Museveni did not say anything new. He is simply saying the truth. His remarks, however bitter they are, [are] simply factual statements,” Deng Alfred Turuk, a native of Warrap state, told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Wassara Samson, a native of Western Equatoria, said the statements suggest the Ugandan president’s lack of confidence in the country’s leadership.
“This is a complete dismissal of the capabilities of our current leadership and we should feel ashamed if [we have] a grain of patriotism and sense of belonging to this country. Our people do not see that the interest of the country is bigger than individual ambitions and personal perks,” said Samson.
The Ugandan government has stressed that its forces were in the country at the request of the South Sudanese government and would remain there until asked to pull out.
It told donors gathered at an international conference in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, this week that its military intervention in the conflict had averted “unimaginable genocide” in the new nation.