KAMPALA, Uganda — The Ugandan government has told donors gathered at an international conference in the Norwegian capital Oslo this week that its military intervention in South Sudan had averted “unimaginable genocide” in the new nation.
Henry Oyrem Okello, the state minister for foreign affairs and leader of the Ugandan delegation in Oslo, said the international community should focus on pressing both sides of the conflict to observe a renewed ceasefire agreement signed on 9 May.
The Ugandan army (UPDF) was deployed to South Sudan after conflict erupted in mid-December last year and has been providing support to the national army (SPLA) attempting to quell a rebellion in the young country led by former vice-president Riek Machar.
Uganda’s involvement has come under heavy criticism form rebels and the international community, amid accusations the country is meddling in the internal affairs of South Sudan and undermining efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to the crisis.
Okello acknowledged the criticism, but reiterated the UPDF’s committed to supporting “the legitimate government of South Sudan”, saying forces would remain “as long it takes”.
“The Ugandan forces were criticised by international community and other people for its presence in South Sudan,” said Okello. “But it has been proved that our intervention has averted a situation where we could have had worse genocide; a killing that would have been unimaginable.”
Okello has called on both warring parties to “show leadership by respecting the ceasefire”.
Meanwhile, Ugandan General Katumba Wamala says ongoing reluctance to deploy regional East African regional forces to stem violence in South Sudan would likely see conflict persist in the country despite the truce agreement.
Both Machar and Kiir recommitted to ending hostilities following a face to face meeting earlier this month in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating peace talks.
But the latest agreement, which followed a tenuous deal signed in January, has failed to halt violence on the ground, with both sides accused of committing atrocities.
Wamala told a press conference on Tuesday in the capital, Juba, that Uganda had asked the South Sudanese government to cover fuel expenses, despite its parliament earlier approving one billion shillings for the military operation.
He also questioned the legitimacy of the latest ceasefire, expressing doubt at the commitment of South Sudan’s warring parties to honour the terms of the agreement.
The general has called on IGAD to speed up the deployment of a regional force in the country to avert further bloodshed.
Uganda currently has between 2000 and 3000 troops active in South
The presence of Ugandan troops has proved a sticking point during negotiations between the rebels and the government, and was recently blamed for stalling the latest round of peace talks in Addis Ababa.
South Sudanese rebels have also accused Sudanese mercenaries from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of fighting alongside government forces.
They have warned that the presence of foreign troops and militia groups would continue to thwart attempts to reach a peaceful settlement.
However, Wamala has stood by the UPDF’s involvement, saying Ugandan forces were in the country at the request of the South Sudanese government and would remain there until asked to pull out.
Ongoing violence in South Sudan has killed thousands and displaced more than 1.3 million people, reigniting tribal tensions across the country.
Donors at the Oslo conference have pledged $600 million for humanitarian efforts in the country after the UN warned it was the “last chance” to avert a looming famine.