— Ugandan troops will remain in South Sudan until a regional security force is deployed in the country to beef up security, South Sudanese Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said Tuesday, ignoring calls by the opposition for the Ugandans to pull out.
Manyang said the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF), which was sent into South Sudan days after fighting broke out in mid-December, will not leave the country until the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating peace talks for South Sudan, deploys a regional force to keep the peace and secure vital installations.
He said the withdrawal of UPDF was also contingent on the warring sides in South Sudan signing a peace deal. Peace talks were adjourned this week by IGAD to allow its special envoys to hold consultations with the two sides in the conflict and international partners. The opposition failed to show up for the latest round.
Deployment protects Uganda
Kampala and Juba said when Uganda first sent troops into South Sudan that they were being deployed to protect government installations and help foreign nationals to safely evacuate the country.
But Manyang said having a troop presence in South Sudan was also in Uganda's interest.
"If there was fighting in Juba and people get displaced, they go to Uganda. There would be massive movement of the population to Uganda and that would make life very difficult for even Ugandans,” he said.
South Sudan refugees at Kiryandongo settlement camp in Uganda. Uganda has taken in more than 76,000 refugees from South Sudan since unrest broke out there on Dec. 15, 2013.
Some Ugandan lawmakers said when the UPDF was first sent in to South Sudan that the deployment -- for which President Yoweri Museveni did not seek parliamentary approval -- was unconstitutional. Last week, another group of Ugandan legislators demanded that the UPDF be withdrawn from their northern neighbor.
South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar has also demanded that the UPDF be withdrawn from South Sudan.
But Manyang warned that withdrawing the Ugandan forces could allow the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to regain a foothold in the region. For two decades, starting in the mid-1980s, the LRA used bases in what was then southern Sudan to terrorize northern Uganda.
The group, led by Joseph Kony, is accused of abducting, raping, maiming and killing civilians, including children. Girls were kept as sex slaves for LRA commanders and boys were forced to fight in the group's ranks as child soldiers.
At the height of the LRA's reign of terror, which was aimed at ousting the government of Uganda, nearly two million people in northern Uganda were displaced, according to the U.S. State Department.
Without adequate security in South Sudan, Manyang said, "the LRA can easily come in and will again disturb Uganda,” not to mention parts of South Sudan, where hundreds have fallen victim to the LRA.