May 29, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA/JUBA) – South Sudan’s armed opposition has accused Ugandan troops of allegedly crossing back into South Sudan and redeploying inside the country this week in violation of the August 2015 peace agreement which demanded their withdrawal from the territories of the world’s youngest and war-ravaged nation.
- There are concerns that the ongoing presence of Ugandan troops, pictured here in Jonglei capital Bor, could further escalate the crisis in South Sudan and lead to regional conflict (Getty)
A senior military official of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) under the leadership of the First Vice President, Riek Machar, said convoys of hundreds or thousands of forces of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) were seen sneaking back into South Sudan on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Ugandan troops have crossed the borders back into South Sudan. We don’t know about their intention. This is a serious violation of the peace agreement. They were told to withdraw, and they did, then now why should they come back? To do what again?” the anonymous senior SPLA-IO military officer, who is also a member of the Joint Monitoring Ceasefire Committee (JMCC) that monitors implementation of the permanent ceasefire and security arrangements, told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.
He further explained that the Ugandan forces have allegedly re-entered South Sudan through Parjok payam in Magwi county of Eastern Equatoria state, east of the national capital, Juba, and another convoy crossed the border through Paluar payam of Keji-Keji county of the newly created Yei state of Central Equatoria, south of Juba.
Eyewitnesses in Magwi county contacted by Sudan Tribune also confirmed seeing Ugandan forces crossing the border again back into South Sudan, five months after their withdrawal from the territories of the northern neighbor.
They however said the foreign troops claimed to be hunting for suspected Uganda’s opposition forces being allegedly trained inside South Sudan.
The South Sudanese peace agreement brokered by the East African regional bloc, IGAD, and signed by top rival leaders, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader, Riek Machar, only allowed Ugandan troops based in Western Equatoria under the African Union (AU) mandate to continue hunting for rebels of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the leadership of Joseph Kony.
The opposition’s official of the SPLA-IO said the sudden and illegal redeployment of the UPDF inside South Sudan is a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty which he also said raised suspicion about their intention this time of peace.
He said the regional and international bodies, such as IGAD, AU and the United Nations (UN) should put pressure on Uganda to withdraw its forces and stop “meddling” in the internal affairs of South Sudan.
Before the civil war, UPDF crossed the border into South Sudan days before the 15 December 2013 crisis and eventually took part in the direct combat against the opposition forces of Machar in assisting President Kiir’s forces.
When strategic Bor town, the state capital of Jonglei state was overrun and captured by the opposition forces in January 2014, three weeks after eruption of the war, it took the Ugandan troops to recapture it and took control of the town for almost two years.
Thousands of Ugandan forces backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and other armoured vehicles pushed back poorly armed opposition forces, mainly of armed young civilians from the Lou-Nuer community in Jonglei state.
The troops of the southern neighbour also provided much of the security for the capital, Juba, including the airport and protection of the top leadership in the capital during the 21 months of the civil war.
Uganda argued that it sent troops in order to avoid genocide from occurring in South Sudan.
But opposition faction of the SPLA-IO accused the UPDF of instead taking side in the internal war and prolonging it.