By JULIUS BARIGABA , The EastAfrican
August 29, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — Uganda says it will honour the requirement of the latest peace agreement to withdraw its army from South Sudan territory, but on condition that the safety of its citizens is guaranteed.
Chief of Defence Forces Gen Edward Katumba Wamala told The EastAfrican that the Uganda People’s Defence Forces will comply with the directive in the agreement that all foreign forces in the war must leave South Sudan within 45 days.
Uganda’s exit and a replacement force are key to building confidence within the rebels [Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement – In Opposition] but Gen Katumba Wamala said UPDF’s withdrawal depends on the safety of Ugandans living and working in Juba and elsewhere within South Sudan.
“We will go with what’s in the agreement, so long as there is no danger to our citizens in Juba. Otherwise if there is any danger… we shall cross that bridge when we get there. But for now, what is in the agreement is what we will comply with,” he said in a phone interview on August 27.
Uganda’s army leader is voicing fears that Ugandans in South Sudan have been targeted by rebel leader Riek Machar’s group, especially after the conflict started and Uganda swiftly deployed its army to support President Kiir’s crumbling government.
Initially, Uganda sent in troops within hours of war breaking out in the South Sudan capital Juba mid December 2013, apparently to secure key installations like Juba Airport and other transport routes for safe evacuation of its citizens, but it soon became clear that the UPDF presence in South Sudan was beyond evacuation of stranded Ugandans.
Uganda’s expressed fear echo those of South Sudan President Kiir, who said that despite signing, he had “serious reservations” about how the mediation was conducted and some of the clauses in the peace deal.
President Kiir was forced to sign the agreement after the United Nations threatened to impose sanctions on him.
Among the major clauses of the agreement that could be the cause of Mr Kiir’s reservations is the fact that the UPDF — the biggest foreign force on South Sudan territory — which all along has been allied to his government, would be forced to pull out, along with the rest of the foreign armies and militia. The other militia include rebels from neighbouring Darfur region and the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.
The peace agreement also demands that no troops be allowed within a 25-kilometre radius of the capital Juba, a clause that amplifies the fears of Uganda considering that the majority of Ugandans in South Sudan work and live in Juba.
Only the presidential guard, police and troops protecting key infrastructure in the city are allowed to remain in the capital.
The onus is now on the replacement force comprising Rwandan, Ethiopian and Kenyan forces to allay fears of both President Kiir and Uganda.
It is assumed that trade between Kampala and Juba will regain its vibrancy as South Sudan is an important export market and source of foreign exchange for Uganda. It is estimated that Uganda has been losing $621.3 million annually since the war started.
But central to this trade is the security of the Nimule-Juba highway.
The army has hinted in the past that even in the event of its withdrawal from South Sudan, it would maintain a buffer force south of Nimule to safeguard the export route to Juba.
President Yoweri Museveni was one of the regional leaders alongside Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta who witnessed as Mr Kiir signing the agreement in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa On Wednesday.
President Museveni described the war between Mr Kiir’s government and the SPLM-IO as the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time” in comparison with South Sudan’s long struggle for Independence.
But President Museveni’s comments echo the a sentiment expressed by his CDF Gen Katumba Wamala, that a young nation that chose this time to go to war, impacting on its own stability and the security of its neighbours, needs a security buffer.