22nd September 2015: Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) troops are set to withdraw from South Sudan next week. This agreement was reached in Khartoum Sudan following a closed doors meeting between South Sudan soon-to-be first vice president of the transitional government Riek Machar and President Omar al Bashir and Yoweri Museveni of Sudan and Uganda respectively.
Uganda People’s Defence Force troops lodged in South Sudan are expected to withdraw after being in the country since December 2013.
Khartoum, Sudan the venue of the first meeting between Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, Sudan’s Omar Bashir and the soon-to-be first Vice President of Transitional Government of National Unity in South Sudan Riek Machar since the South Sudan conflict erupted in 2013.
The meeting discussed the withdrawal of the UPDF troops from Juba and a rebel-disarmament of the rebel in South Sudan to ensure the success of the IGAD-PLUS peace agreement of South Sudan.
In December 2013, Uganda deployed over 3000 UPDF troops into Somalia to help resolve the conflict between the Rebel under Riek Machar and the government of Salva Kiir.
The UPDF set up base near the Juba Airport initially with the aim of securing the airport to facilitate the safe evacuation of Ugandans in South Sudan. They have maintained three major bases in South Sudan; near Juba Airport (which is the major one), in Bor and Nisitu.
Uganda’s commitment to aiding South Sudan end the conflict was visible by the artillery present ranging from helicopter gunships, heavy military tanks, armored vehicles as well as the larger man power deployed both for advisory and logistical support.
Since their deployment into South Sudan they have played a major role in;
- protecting President Salva Kiir from the rebels as well as regain major strategic towns in the oil-rich Upper Nile region from the rebels
- guarding major infrastructure like the Juba Airport to facilitate transport in and out of the country
- protecting the main Uganda-South Sudan trade route along the Juba-Nimule Highway
Uganda categorically stated that the withdrawal of her troops would only be prompted by the deployment of either the IGAD forces or the East African Stand-by Force.
Riek Machar and other SPLM-IO officials have previously held reservations on the role of the UPDF in South Sudan and the impediment they caused to the success of the cease-fire and transitional government success.
The withdrawal of the UPDF is not only a sign of thawing the icy relationship between Museveni and Machar but also a ray of light in the success of the peace agreement signed for South Sudan. UPDF’s departure indicates the first major steps towards the chronological phases of the peace deal implementation.
Uganda will however give advisory support especially on the disarmament of the South Sudan rebels and other necessary efforts to ensure South Sudan’s stability as a conflict directly affects her.