AFRICANGLOBE – South Sudanese Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk has defended a security agreement signed recently with neighboring Uganda aimed at protecting key installations in the country and training South Sudanese army officers.
While insisting the agreement did not allow Uganda to buy arms on behalf of South Sudan, Juuk also said that his government was looking into establishing an air defense system to defend itself from attacks emanating from neighboring Sudan.
“It is a defense cooperation agreement allowing Uganda to [deploy] its forces for the defense of Juba and the surrounding area,” the minister told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
The deal was signed in October by Juuk and Ugandan counterpart Crispus Kiyonga.
Juuk said the agreement would serve to bolster Uganda’s preexisting troop presence.
“They [Ugandan forces] are in Yambio in Western Equatoria, together with the American army and South Sudanese army,” he noted. “The tripartite force is fighting under an agreement.”
“We cannot have a force from another country enter the country [South Sudan] without an agreement,” Juuk added.
“This agreement we have reached with Uganda will definitely help so that their forces remain in South Sudan on the ground,” he asserted.
“In fact, this cooperation agreement is for assisting officers in the field of training and information exchange,” Juuk explained. “We have common interest with Uganda.”
He cited the presence of the Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), “which is affecting Uganda and… South Sudan.”
The issue of Ugandan troops in South Sudan has been a contentious issue in peace talks between the government of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebels loyal to his sacked vice president, Riek Machar.
South Sudan slid into chaos late last year when Kiir accused a group of army leaders allied to Machar of plotting to overthrow the government.
Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have since been displaced in subsequent fighting, while the conflict has led to a serious humanitarian crisis for large swathes of the population.
Minister Juuk denied reports that the agreement allowed Uganda to purchase arms on behalf of South Sudan.
“No, this is not true,” he told AA. “South Sudan is an independent country… Uganda does not manufacture weapons; it [the agreement] has nothing to do with that.”
“When we want weapons, we deal directly with the [arms manufacturing] companies,” said Juuk.
He regretted that, ever since the conflict erupted last year, “there seems to be a sort of undeclared sanction by some forces” on the sale of certain weapons to his government.
“But we hope it will soon come to an end with the peace agreement that we are soon to sign,” Juuk added. “And definitely, there will be no reason again for them to sanction; we will trade directly with another country.”
Kiir and Machar recently signed a cessation-of-hostilities agreement in Addis Ababa brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), an East Africa regional bloc based in Djibouti.
Defense Minister Juuk went on to assert that his country was interested in establishing an air force to defend its territory from bomb attacks, which, the government says, emanate from neighboring Sudan.
The minister cited recent aerial bombing in Raga County in Western Bahr el-Ghazal State, which he blamed on South Sudan’s northern neighbor.
“The Sudanese army is of course using Antonov [planes], but they are actually denying that they [carried out the bombings],” Juuk told AA.
“They bombed the area eight miles northeast of Raga and they also bombed Maban County,” said the minister.
“When we ask them, they say they are bombing the places where their [anti-government] rebels are; that their rebels are inside South Sudan, which is not correct,” he added.
“In fact, they are bombing only innocent people deep inside South Sudan – not even close to the border, because from Raga to the border it is 180km,” the minister fumed.
He said South Sudan still lacked an air-defense system, but added that, with such bombings, there was a need to protect the country’s airspace.
“They [the Sudanese] are exploiting the fact that… we do not have air-defense system,” Juuk added.
“We have to acquire an air-defense system that will protect our airspace, because they [the Sudanese] know we don’t have one,” he told AA.
“We may have it [an air-defense system] today or tomorrow; definitely, they will not escape with this bombing going on,” the defense minister vowed.