KAMPALA – High ranking Ugandan officials confirmed on Monday that the Ugandan People Democratic Force (UPDF) have started pulling out of war-torn South Sudan. The announcement comes after international observers and supporters of former South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar voiced concerns that the presence of Ugandan forces could reignite fighting.
The withdrawal of all allied forces is a cornerstone precondition for the peace deal signed by President Salva Kirr and Machar in Addis Ababa two months ago. Ugandan forces had been scheduled to leave South Sudan two days ago.
“As one of the guarantors to the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement, and following the requirement of Chapter II, Article 1.5, of 17TH August 2015 Addis Ababa Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan that requires security actors allied to either party in the conflict in South Sudan to withdraw from the country within forty five days, UPDF has with immediate effect from today started to pull out of South Sudan,” Uganda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hon. Henry Okello Oryem said in a statement.
Ugandan Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Katumba Wamala revealed that the terms of the UPDF’s withdrawal was still being worked out. However, he noted that Ugandan forces could be out of South Sudan by the beginning of November.
The UPDF was one of the first foreign forces to be deployed to South Sudan when fighting broke out between the South Sudanese military and supporters of Machar after a botched coup d’état in Dec. 2013. More than 50,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives and over a million others have become displaced as a result of the 21-month long conflict.
Hon. Okello noted that the Ugandan army was able to stop a genocide that was unfolding in South Sudan. They also aided the evacuation of thousands of Ugandans and other foreigners who were in the country when fighting erupted, protected vital facilities and created conducive conditions for the peace talks to take place, according to the minister.
Experts say the withdrawal of all foreign boots would pave the way for United Nations (UN) forces to consolidate security in the country. Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted in favor of extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) until Dec. 15, 2015. The resolution, which threatened sanctions against the main actors in the South Sudan conflict, also tasked the UNMISS to protect civilians by “all means necessary” and monitor the ceasefire agreement between both sides.
Many observers say South Sudan is tethering on the edge and risks descending into another bout of open fighting. Last week, President Kirr announced plans to create 18 new states – bringing the total number of states in the country to 28. However, Machar and his supporters have rejected the proposal, which they claim was done without any consultation with them. Critics say if it is successful, the move would deprive Machar of control of any of South Sudan’s oil-rich states.