AFRICANGLOBE – On Wednesday, Uganda closed its embassy in South Sudan’s capital Juba. Until then the only other significant move it had taken was to put its troops on high alert at the border with its northern neighbour.
But as the chaos intensified, now said to be a coup attempt in which two Ugandans have been killed and more injured, Kampala was compelled to deploy special forces.
Uganda deployed an unconfirmed number of its soldiers to Juba, as the situation in the capital and Jonglei state remained volatile following the coup attempt of December 15.
Without stating the number of troops, Uganda Peoples Defence Forces spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda told reporters, on Friday, that a small force had been dispatched to facilitate the evacuation of Ugandans, some of whom are injured.
“It has been deployed with full authorisation of the South Sudan government,” he said, but declined to say how long the force will remain in South Sudan, nor whether more troops would be sent. There are reports that the UPDF soldiers will be deployed until the political chaos in South Sudan ends.
Uganda did not move in to help quell the unrest immediately, unlike in the past. One such instance when Ugandan forces intervened promptly was in 2007, when two Ugandan delegations that were in the South Sudanese capital panicked as the sound of gunfire rocked the city.
But by the following morning, a senior Ugandan politician who was part of one of the delegations that had been in Juba negotiating peace between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), recalls that the situation was returning to calm.
During the night, a section of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) had tried to overthrow South Sudan President Salva Kiir, who then called Kampala to come to his rescue.
Thus, UPDF soldiers and military tanks stepped in because the Ugandan government had an interest in a peaceful South Sudan. At the time, Juba was hosting peace negotiations between Kampala and the LRA with more than 50 Ugandan political and religious leaders who formed the two delegations, and military officers. In addition, local and international media were monitoring the peace process that had started in 2006.
But of more significance for Uganda, the peace talks were mediated by the then South Sudan vice president Riek Machar. Had Kampala allowed a section of SPLA allied to Riek Machar to remove President Kiir from power it would have been interpreted as support for the coup. However, the talks collapsed when several times in 2008, LRA leader Joseph Kony did not show up to sign the peace accord.
In 2007, Kampala was still smarting from an international public relations disaster following the death two years earlier of SPLA leader John Garang, the first South Sudan president and the vice president of Sudan.
Garang was killed in a helicopter crash on July 30, 2005, just months after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between SPLA and Khartoum had been signed. The helicopter belonged to Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni whom Garang had just met in Uganda; the SPLA leader was returning to his base in South Sudan when the chopper crashed in a mountain range in southern Sudan.
This sparked a wave of conspiracy theories in the international media, some accusing Uganda of mismanaging the SPLA leader’s flight by chopper back to his base, and possibly having a hand in Garang’s death.
Soon after, Ugandan traders found a land of opportunity in the then southern province of the Republic of Sudan, following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
In 2007 and now, military intelligence and sources within the ruling Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement point an accusing finger at Dr Machar as the man behind the alleged coup attempt.
The significance of South Sudan today to Uganda is as a trade partner and key market for Ugandan exports and services, rather than a mediator of a peace process. Thus, other than concern for its citizens’ safety, there is no public relations image or political interests for Uganda to salvage.
As an immediate neighbour, Uganda’s role in resolving the Juba crisis is political, which is why the job of the special forces deployed on Thursday is to help evacuate its citizens.
Uganda’s political role is overseen by the United Nations, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Fred Opolot.
“The UN Secretary General had a phone conversation with President Museveni and asked him to intervene by finding a political solution to the problem,” Mr Opolot told journalists in Kampala on December 19.
The “political solution” is to get all the sides in the South Sudan crisis — including the forces loyal to Gen Peter Gadet Yak who say they have clashed with the Salva Kiir-allied SPLA — to talk and reach a compromise; Salva Kiir has already agreed to the talks. Indications from Uganda’s foreign affairs ministry are that this process could take place under the UN and African Union auspices.
By: Julius Barigaba
At least three jets of the Ugandan air force bombed the positions of the General Peter Gatdet Yak in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State.
One of the jets is reported to have been shut down by Gatdet’s forces, Eyewitnesses in the area told the South Sudan News Agency.
The bombings come just one day after Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni sent his special forces to Juba, asserting that he acts at the request of the South Sudanese President.
The SSNA cannot independently verify the reports.
Earlier today, media outlets including the SSNA reported bombing campaign in Bor carried out by the Ugandan Air Force against forces loyal to the defected General Peter Gatdet Yak. At least three Ugandan jets were seen to have participated in the air campaign.
But, the BBC reported that a plane that was conducting an evacuation mission to rescue American citizens in Bor was the target.
The Ugandan government remains silent on the report.
Meanwhile SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said government troops backed by helicopter gunships are advancing toward Jonglei to retake the Bor from the rebels, the AFP reports.
Residents of Bentiu city reported that the SPLA Division 4th Commander James Koang has announced his rebellion on a local radio station, saying he is ready to fight against the government. But, the SPLA plays down the defection vowing the General defected without any soldiers with him. The SSNA later confirmed the defection of General Koang.
Tension remains high throughout the country since the alleged coup was reported to have taken place. At least 500 people have been killed in Juba alone and the number of those killed is believed to be high.