Uganda has begun pulling its troops out of neighboring South Sudan, to comply with a peace deal signed by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar in August, officials said Monday.
A spokesman for the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), Col. Paddy Ankunda, said Kampala expects to have withdrawn all of its troops in South Sudan within the next two weeks.
Henry Okello Oryem, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, recalled that the UPDF forces were deployed in South Sudan at the request of President Kiir after fighting erupted in Juba in December 2013.
Oryem said the presence of the UPDF in South Sudan "helped to stop what was likely to be the worst genocide in the region."
"Although thousands had already been massacred in the town of Bor, the UPDF intervention and the subsequent capture of Bor town halted the massacrews that had been gong on," Oryem said, referring to the capital of Jonglei state.
The UPDF also "helped to evacuate thousands of Ugandans and other foreigners" who were trapped in the midst of the fighting in South Sudan; protected strategic installations, such as airports, and the capital city, Juba; and kept the main trade route between Uganda and South Sudan open, Oryem said.
Neither Ankunda nor Oryem said how many troops Uganda sent into South Sudan, but it is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 were sent in at Mr. Kiir's request when the country erupted in violence nearly two years ago.
The peace deal for South Sudan calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and non-state military actors within 45 days of the agreement being signed. Machar signed the deal on August 17 and Mr. Kiir signed on August 26. That means the deadline for withdrawal was on October 10 -- two days ago.
Although an official death toll has not yet been released for the 20-month conflict in South Sudan, tens of thousands are believed to have died and more than 2 million have been forced from their homes by the fighting, which is still continuing in parts of the country.
Ugandan forces that deployed in Western Equatoria state to fight the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) do not have to withdraw, under the terms of the peace deal.