Uganda’s parliament plans to begin debate Tuesday about President Yoweri Museveni’s request seeking approval to deploy additional troops to South Sudan, to help stabilize the security situation there, according to legislator Muwanga Kivumbi Muhammed.
Muhammed, a leading member of the parliamentary committee on Defense and Internal Affairs says lawmakers will demand answers from the government on how long troops from the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) will stay in South Sudan, as well as the role they will play in the ongoing conflict.
Some parliamentarians accused President Yoweri Museveni of contravening the constitution by failing to seek parliamentary approval before deploying troops to South Sudan to evacuate Ugandan citizens trapped there due to the conflict.
“We want to know the level of involvement of Uganda in South Sudan and we are there on whose invitation? Which organ? Is it IGAD [regional bloc] is it the African Union? Which arrangement are we in South Sudan? Or are we there as a mercenary to help Salva Kiir. These details we need to know,” said Muhammed.
Muhammed says the government has refused to provide legislators with the exact number of UPDF troops that have so far been deployed to South Sudan citing security concerns.
“[A minister] observed that the question of where our troops could be and how many should be deployed in South Sudan, is an operational detail which can jeopardize the lives of our troops and he was reluctant to give us the details,” said Muhammed.
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.
Some parliamentarians like Muhammed contend that the UPDF’s alleged support for Mr. Kiir could endanger the lives of more Ugandans in South Sudan, since Uganda could be seen as taking sides in the conflict.
“Uganda should not be seen to be partisan, in a conflict [of] a sovereign country. We also believe that troops and boots and guns cannot have a lasting solution to South Sudan,” said Muhammed. “We think this is squarely a political issue, which must have a political answer and therefore third party arbiters need to have clean hands and to be seen to be credible so that they can reinforce and earn the trust of both sides.”
Muhammed says the administration appears not to have an official request from South Sudan to deploy troops to that country.
“[We asked] do you have an official invitation by the government of South Sudan, requesting the intervention of Ugandan troops? The Defense Minister said it was only the office of the president [that] can answer that question,” said Muhammed.
He says some lawmakers will pressure the administration to provide more answers about Ugandans in South Sudan.
“As of now they don’t know how many [citizens] have been killed in South Sudan [and] they don’t have exact figures of how many Ugandans are in South Sudan. No one has the figures,” said Muhammed. “We even don’t know which areas exactly are all Ugandans located.
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.”
Officials say over 20,000 Ugandans have been evacuated from South Sudan due to the South Sudan conflict.