Uganda’s parliament has summoned the defense minister, Crispus Kiyonga, to appear before the defense and internal affairs committee on Thursday to explain the deployment of Ugandan troops to neighboring South Sudan.
Frederick Mbagadhi Nkayi, a leading member of the parliamentary committee, expressed support for the deployment but also said the legislative body has to examine the rationale behind the deployment of the troops to South Sudan.
Speaking to VOA, Nkayi says he supports the government’s actions.
“We are supposed to be interacting with the minister of defense, of course, over concerns of our forces having gone to South Sudan,” said Nkayi. “I feel extremely happy that our forces moved very fast to intervene in this conflict. To us, as a nation and stakeholders in the affairs of our country, we are so much interested in the safety of our people.”
Some legislators objected to the presidential initiative. They accused President Yoweri Museveni of contravening the constitution by failing to seek parliamentary approval before deploying troops from the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) to South Sudan to evacuate Ugandan citizens trapped there due to the conflict.
Nkayi disagrees with the president's critics. “Parliament was in recess and the situation on the ground calls for an immediate intervention. Of course, what I would have [done] is to secure the passage of our people, then possibly convene parliament and ratify whatever action would have taken place,” said Nkayi.
“If the UPDF had not moved very swiftly to create safe passage for our people, then that means we would have lost thousands of them.”
Uganda foreign ministry spokesman Fred Opolot told VOA that the UPDF troops are in South Sudan to protect and evacuate citizens. “Our major concern is to ensure that (our citizens) are safe, and if not, they are evacuated. So that process is ongoing,” said Opolot.
“Uganda People’s Defense Forces (are) in Juba to secure the airport in order to ensure that the evacuation process goes very smoothly.”
But some parliamentarians say there have been reports that the UPDF troops are involved in South Sudan’s conflict in spite of the (Ugandan) government’s insistence that the soldiers are there to secure the airport, protect and evacuate citizens.
South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar accused the UPDF of supporting troops loyal to President Salva Kiir in the conflict. Kampala denies the charge.
Nkayi says the Ugandan troops are there help the peace process. “We do believe that UPDF is supposed to be playing a neutral role to ensure that the warring factions can come on a round table and talk peace,” said Nkayi.
He says the defense minister would have to clarify the role of Ugandan troops in South Sudan’s ongoing conflict when he appears before parliament.
“The starting point would be to know exactly how have we have gone with that crisis in South Sudan, because outrightly, we need to hear from the horse’s mouth, especially from the minister of defense, what has transpired on the ground in South Sudan,” said Nkayi.
South Sudan’s two warring factions are in talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to find ways of ending the conflict which has so far left over 1,000 dead and tens of thousands internally displaced. The talks have been sanctioned by the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Nkayi says parliamentarians want to know what the end game is for UPDF troops in South Sudan.
“We had concerns of really having our people get out of South Sudan safely,” said Nkayi. “But we are also interested in knowing, 'Is it under the IGAD arrangement? Is it under the African Union arrangement?'
"All these are questions that linger in the minds of many.”