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Uganda Denies Responsibility for Attack in Southern Sudan

The Ugandan government has rejected accusations that Ugandan troops were responsible for an attack on a village in southern Sudan last month. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the matter threatens to raise tensions between the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan and the government of Uganda.

Southern Sudan had initially blamed the June 14 attack, in which several houses were looted and a Sudanese man kidnapped and killed, on Ugandan rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA.

But on June 30, South Sudan's Vice President Riek Machar said an investigation by an international committee that monitors the ceasefire between the LRA and Uganda - and which includes representatives from both Uganda and southern Sudan - revealed that troops from Uganda's army were responsible. Machar, speaking before south Sudan's parliament, said Ugandan troops should leave Sudan.

Ugandan officials, meanwhile, say they are surprised that their troops are being asked to leave. Army spokesman Chris Magezi says there has been no official communication from the government of southern Sudan. He says the LRA, and not the Ugandan military, was responsible for the attack.

"UPDF is not involved at all," said Magezi. "Those are just mere allegations and they have no truth in them."

Captain Magezi says Ugandan troops were following LRA forces after an earlier attack by the rebels in southern Sudan. Nobody has disputed the LRA's responsibility for that assault.

"UPDF forces in pursuit tried to follow that group which later crossed the Nile again around the 16th of June. But apparently one of our soldiers dropped his pack and it is the Southern Sudan authorities which are using to implicate UPDF," he said. "But we have been in Sudan for six years. And we have done good work with the people of Sudan and the SPLA. There is no need for us to engage in such attacks. It is not our method of work."

Uganda reached an agreement with the Sudanese government in 2002 that allowed Ugandan troops to conduct operations against the LRA in Sudan's south. But that agreement was reached before a 2005 peace agreement created a semi-autonomous southern government.

The chief of staff of southern Sudan's military, General Oyai Deng Ajak, said that southern Sudan and Uganda have continued to cooperate in joint operations.

"The SPLA is responsible for security and defense of the people of south Sudan. UPDF, we have been doing joint operations together with them against the LRA and we have no problem in continuing with operations against the LRA together with UPDF," said Ajak. "But if the people of south Sudan feel that the time has come for UPDF to go out, it will be communicated through the official channel.

General Ajak says Machar was speaking in his capacity as a mediator for the peace talks, and not as an official of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the ruling party in southern Sudan.

Machar has been mediating peace talks in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, between the LRA and the Ugandan government for the past two years.

Negotiators from the two sides reached an agreement in April, but rebel leader Joseph Kony failed to show up to sign the deal. In late June, several members of the rebel negotiating team quit.

But on Saturday, U.N. mediator Joachim Chissano said he was contacted by Kony who said that he supported the agreement and wanted to hold another meeting along the border between Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the LRA is currently based.

The Ugandan government has said it hopes Kony will agree to sign the deal, but that it rejects further negotiation on the contents of the agreement.

The two-decade conflict, which was based in Northern Uganda but has spilled over in recent years into southern Sudan and eastern Congo, killed thousands and displaced nearly two million people. The International Criminal Court has indicted Joseph Kony and his top deputies for war crimes. The indictments are seen as one of the reasons Kony has been reluctant to sign a deal.

The U.S. State Department's top Africa official, Jendayi Frazer, said last week that Kony has used the peace process to rearm and suggested that the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo should pursue the LRA. Frazer made the comments at an African Union Summit in Egypt.