By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
January 20, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudan’s Nuer community in Ethiopia has called for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) from the country ahead of the resumption of a new round of peace talks between the rival SPLM factions.
- A contingent of soldiers from the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (Photo courtesy New Vision)
The president of the Nuer community in Ethiopia, Koat Gatkuoth Thoat Diu, told Sudan Tribune that Uganda’s continued refusal to withdraw its forces in South Sudan would remain a major obstruction to the peace process being mediated by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
He urged IGAD, the international community to exert more pressure on Uganda to halt its military intervention in the young East African nation.
During an official visit to Ethiopia last month, Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni said his troops would not pull out unless IGAD deploys a regional security force capable to replacing them.
Museveni argued that his decision was necessary to avoid a security vaccum.
“We didn’t go to south Sudan looking for [a] job. We deployed our troops because we have brothers there,” he said.
“We are not the problem in South Sudan and the problem is lack of peace among the South Sudanese people,” he added.
Uganda deployed its troops in South Sudan shortly after conflict erupted in December 2013 following a political dispute in the rival party (SPLM).
According to Museveni, troops are tasked with protecting civilians and public facilities from rebel attacks.
However, rebels have accused the UPDF of being actively involved in combat against opposition forces led by former vice-president Riek Machar, who is of Nuer ethnicity.
Rebel officials in Addis Ababa today told Sudan Tribune that Uganda’s continued defiance in response to repeated calls to withdraw from South Sudan will only jeopaerdise peace negotiations and further the suffering of the South Sudanese people.
Rebels also accuse the UPDF of taking part in targeted killings of ethnic Nuers alongside government forces and claim that Uganda is flouting an international ban on the use of cluster bombs.
Thousands have been killed as a result of the latest conflict in South Sudan, with about 1.9 million people also forced to flee their homes.
Ongoing peace negotiations in Ethiopia between the two warring SPLM factions have so far failed to yield a lasting political settlement to the crisis.
IGAD leaders are due to meet on 30 January to discuss the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.
Machar and South Sudanese president Salva Kiir have also been invited to attend the summit, in which both are expected to face renewed pressure from regional leaders to reach peace deal.