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Why Sudan wants UPDF out

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Written by Frank Nyakairu | The Independent

South Sudan is now Uganda’s leading trading partner and political ally. But the country’s relations with the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) seems headed for turbulent times after GoSS Vice President Riek Machar announced recently that the Uganda army should leave in part because they have been involved in acts of insecurity disguised as LRA rebels. Will President Salva Kiir expected in Kampala mend the ties before it is too late?

When Vice President Riek Machar ordered the UPDF to leave the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) territory on June 30, he re-awakened an incident that occurred on June 14.

That incident appears to be at the centre of a diplomatic row between erstwhile friends Uganda and the GoSS. It also threatens the Juba peace talks and scuttles the Government of Uganda’s mobilisation of a regional force to rout the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.

Since LRA leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the Government of Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has been keen to launch a regionally-backed military campaign against the LRA.

Southern Sudan is central to the UPDF because respite from the 22-year rebellion that has wrought havoc in northern Uganda came only after Khartoum allowed UPDF to pursue Kony into Sudan. In the past, Southern Sudan has been a conduit for supplies to Kony and his current base in the Garamba National forest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) is more accessible from the nearby Southern Sudan border in case of a military offensive.

The expulsion of UPDF from Southern Sudan therefore raises the question: why now?

Apparently, on that June 30 at about 7 pm, an armed group of about 30 men raided a homestead with five houses in the village of Nyongwa in Pageri Payam in Western Equatoria, a state of Southern Sudan. It was a peaceful village. The homestead housed families of refugees that had just been repatriated from Uganda.

The attackers looted foodstuff and household items and abducted one man, Mr Jino Moga Mandara, 31. Mandara was found three days later, dead.

It was assumed that the attackers were members of the LRA.

Nevertheless, the regional team established under the agreement between the Ugandan government and the LRA to monitor any violations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, signed by the two parties in Juba two years ago on August 26, 2006, set out to investigate. The Cessation of Hostilities Monitoring Team (CHMT) was comprised of military officers from South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Southern Sudan and the LRA.

The team left Juba on June 19 and returned on June 20.

In a report to the GoSS Vice President Riek Machar, the team under Maj. Gen. Wilson Deng Kuoirot of the SPLA said that materials found near the body “implicate the UPDF masquerading as LRA.”

The evidence found next to Mandara’s body were two bags containing two military uniforms, one pair of military boots, two ponchos, three caps, and a document containing names of suspected UPDF soldiers indicating “Section II, Platoon I, ‘A’ Coy,” with full names and military ranks including army numbers.

The document seems to have been obtained from a health centre where the soldiers might have conducted a medical checkup, probably in Uganda.

Machar said the UPDF members of the CHMT tried to deny the evidence during the verification exercise but other members pinned them.

He later said that the Uganda Consul General in Juba, Busho Ndinyenka, confirmed that the materials found belong to UPDF.

Machar said Busho explained to him that the materials just got lost from the UPDF in pursuit of the LRA in the area.

Three days later, on June 23, Machar wrote to Uganda’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, who is also the leader of the government delegation to the Juba Peace talks. Machar wrote that Mandara’s killing had “created concern on all levels civil population, business and the government.”

Machar wrote: “Apparently it was assumed that the perpetrators were LRA, but, as the report clearly states, it is a squad of UPDF that masqueraded as SPLA.”

Among recommendations, Machar called for further investigations, coordination and cooperation between the SPLA and UPDF.

However, on June 30 Vice President Riek Machar Teny ordered the UPDF to leave GoSS territory.

“If there are any forces in Sudan that are UPDF, these should move back to Ugandan territory,” he told the GoSS parliament in early July. “If the option to fight the LRA is going to be made, (South Sudan) can handle this on its own.”

When Machar laid the charges against the UPDF to the Assembly of MPs and GoSS officials, he suggested that the UPDF leave positions they have occupied since March 2002.

A Southern Sudan official who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter told The Independent that Machar later lobbied a Security Committee meeting in Juba “trying to persuade top South Sudan military officials to kick UPDF off Sudanese soil.”

Machar is also the chief mediator and host of the peace talks between the Uganda government and the LRA.

His statements, therefore, threaten the peace process and signal a diplomatic squabble between Kampala and Juba.

Accusations of the UPDF masquerading as the LRA in the northern Uganda conflict are not new. In April, The Independent ran a story that included claims by former UPDF Lance Corporal Godfrey Masaba that in June 2003, he was part of specially-groomed gang of UPDF soldiers who grew their hair and wore ragged civilian trousers and T-shirts to masquerade as LRA and attack villages in northern Uganda.

Following the story, security operatives raided The Independent in a botched attempt to apprehend Corporal Masaba.

This time round, the Ugandan government has reacted with a two-pronged strategy to assuage tempers in the GoSS and isolate VP Machar as an anti-UPDF man.

Reacting to the strategy to isolate him, the press in Juba reported that Machar had told a Council of Ministers meeting he chaired on July 4 that GoSS President Salva Kiir Mayardit ordered the expulsion of UPDF from Southern Sudan territory and already instructed the SPLA Chief of Staff, Lt. General Oyai Deng Ajak, to communicate the order to his Ugandan army counterpart in Kampala.

Machar said the decision was reached on June 7, 2008 in the Southern Sudan Security Committee meeting chaired by Kiir Mayardit himself.

However, the UPDF, which has maintained thousands of troops in areas on Magwi, Palotaka, Tibika and Aru in southern Sudan, denies both the accusation of masquerading as LRA and being kicked out of Southern Sudan.

“This is manipulation of facts,” said Captain Chris Magezi, the spokesman of the Government peace team. “We shared intelligence with SPLA about a group of LRA attackers led by Abudema that came and attacked Pageri abducting one person and killing another.

“All the SPLA commanders in the field have a different story from what Machar says. Unless there are other motivating factors, we cannot explain these false claims,” he said.

Kampala is angry at Machar’s moves and is asking one crucial question. “How can he go to that extent, completely turning his eyes away from what LRA is doing in Sudan?” asked one angry Government minister.

Apparently, UN reports say LRA has been abducting close to 100 youths in the last one month.

Machar’s history in Southern Sudan’s liberation struggle has always been controversial.

A holder of a PhD in robotic engineering from the University of Bradford, Machar was one of the earliest members of the SPLA/M under John Garang de Mabior, but split with Lam Akol and Gordon Kong Chuol to form SPLA-Nasir, allied with the Khartoum Islamist regime.

Many still accuse Machar of massacring thousands during fighting between Lou Nuer and Bor. It was also during that time when Machar reportedly worked with LRA as pro-Khartoum armed groups against SPLA.

A Uganda official in diplomatic circles claims, “Machar, during his wars with Garanga, attempted to seek an alliance with the Uganda government in vain. Since then he has never been our friend.”

Though this diplomatic hitch threatens the Government-LRA peace process, efforts to get the protagonists back to the negotiating table are under way. Last weekend, LRA peace delegation leader David Nyekorach Matsanga was in Juba to hold a meeting with Machar and the UN Chief for the Great Lakes Region Joaquim Chissano in order to forge ahead. However, efforts to kick UPDF out of Sudan continued.

President Salva Kiir of Southern Sudan is also expected to visit Uganda soon to try and keep the situation under control.

Can UPDF leave?

Owing to the political mess of divisionism in the Sudan, getting Ugandan forces out of their positions in the region could be next to impossible for now. Uganda and Sudan entered the first bilateral protocol to allow Ugandan forces to fight LRA in March 2002. The protocol was renewed every month. However, in September 2006, Khartoum pulled out of the arrangement, saying southern Sudan would renew the protocol on their behalf.

International Affairs Minister Okello Oryem said, “The Government of Uganda has not received any official communication to the effect that UPDF should pull out of Southern Sudan.

“When the North and the South signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in May 2005, it became automatic that UPDF could then go beyond the four degrees latitude (also known as the ‘red line’) to pursue LRA in all places in Southern Sudan,” Okello Oryem said.  “UPDF continues to maintain presence in South Sudan in security interests of both of us, but if the Government of Southern Sudan wants us to leave, we will come back home and protect out country from our borders,” he added.

To date, both GoSS and Kampala continue to have common security threats. LRA is out and about with six major bases in northeastern DR Congo with remnants in South Sudan, while relations between Khartoum and Juba remain strained. In fact, a diplomatic source told The Independent that GoSS “may not actually have the diplomatic powers to ask UPDF to leave. It is still Gen Omar El-Bashir who can do that.”

The SPLA and UPDF fought side-by-side capturing towns during the war against the Northern Sudanese Islamist Government in Khartoum. However, many fear the resounding calls for Ugandan forces to leave Southern Sudan are the beginning of what could be another major fall between Uganda and its neighbors.

Can one incident, involving the death of one man, destroy relationships between “brotherly” countries and scuttle any hopes for finishing off Kony and his rebels militarily?

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