Uganda parliament tense after S. Sudan deployment

South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar also slammed the Ugandan airforce for bombing rebel-held areas.

Uganda parliament tense after S. Sudan deployment

World Bulletin / News Desk

Members of the Ugandan parliament's defense committee on Thursday had a heated exchange with State Minister for Defense Gen. Jeje Odong regarding the deployment of Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) in war-ravaged South Sudan.

Committee Chairwoman Namugwanya Benny asked Odong to explain "the situation in Southern Sudan and Uganda's own security, the level of preparedness in forestalling any possible threats to Uganda's security and a brief on the level of involvement of the UPDF in the South Sudan conflict."

Odong, however, told the committee that he had received the invitation to meet with committee members late in the evening and "by virtue of the subject I am not able to brief the committee."

"Considering the fluid situation in South Sudan, the chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala, is at the border in West Nile, while other army officers who would be with me are still out of the country," he added.

The state minister then told the lawmaker to give him until the following day to explain the situation in detail since he had summoned them all to return.

Ever since the South Sudan conflict began last month, the UPDF has denied being actively involved in combat.

The army insists that Ugandan troops are only in South Sudan to evacuate Ugandan nationals caught up in the war.

Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda told Anadolu Agency this week that the international community had asked the UPDF to secure the Juba International Airport so that humanitarian supplies could be delivered to those in need.

The minister's position did not go down well with MP Ssemuju Nganda, who also serves as shadow information minister.

"I have established from very reliable sources that actually what has transpired here is a set-up," he told the floor.

According to the opposition legislator, Defense Ministry officials had held a meeting and planned to deceive the parliamentary committee.

"By yesterday, the substantive Minister of Defense Crispus Kiyonga was supposed to be in South Sudan [and] the chief of Defense Forces was on his way to the Upper Nile to plan how to deploy Ugandan soldiers to guard the oil," Nganda asserted.

He went on to say that Defense Ministry officials had agreed that Gen. Odong would call the chairperson of parliament's Defense Committee and tell her that they would be ready on Tuesday.

"Then, on Tuesday, you tell the committee they would be ready on Friday – the state minister knows these things," he said.

Muwanga Kivumbi, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Party, then took the floor to say that Odong had shown him a letter from the committee chairwoman asking the minister to appear before the committee on Thursday.

"I was so taken aback when I heard him speak, as if he is off tangent, then ranges credence to the assertion of Ssemuju," Kivumbi said.

"That also puts the leadership of this committee in a despicable situation, and we have to come good so that this committee is not used for public relations," he added.

Chairwoman Benny, a member of the ruling party, claimed that she had called Minister Kiyonga on Wednesday afternoon, but that the latter's personal assistant had told her that the minister was in a meeting upcountry.

"Later in the evening I called Gen. Odong, who told me that he had not seen the letter which I sent after failing to get Minister Kiyonga," added the lawmaker.

An angry Gen. Odong then demanded the floor in order to respond to Ssemuju's allegations.

"It is absolutely objectionable that a member [of parliament] should insinuate ugly things to a responsible public servant like me," he fumed.

The state minister added: "That we met, that we are conniving, that we are hiding people – this is absolutely nonsensical. I will not sit here and accept that kind of nonsense."

Other members then called for order and passed the committee chairperson a chit to call off the meeting.

Machar's envoys decry Uganda shelling of rebel-held areas

Negotiators representing sacked South Sudanese vice-president Riek Machar in ongoing negotiations in Addis Ababa said Thursday that Uganda's air force continued to pound rebel-held areas in South Sudan, killing scores of people and displacing others.

“Four airplanes struck indiscriminately the areas of Ariak, Sudan Safari, and Bor town, killing innocent civilians including women and children,” Machar's representatives wrote in a statement.

Representatives of the sacked vice-president went to Addis Ababa last week to negotiate with a delegation representing President Salva Kiir in a bid to bring fighting in the strife-torn country to an end. Fighting erupted in South Sudan in mid-December when Kiir claimed that Machar stood behind a botched coup attempt against him.

The subsequent reaction from Juba led to the jailing of several politicians loyal to Machar, but this did not make the guns in the world's newest country fall silent. Fighting seeped out of Juba to other states, leading to the killing of hundreds of people and the displacement of tens of thousands.

Mediated by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (GAD), the talks in Addis Ababa have not culminated yet in a deal between the warring parties, but IGAD wrote in a statement on Thursday that it is optimistic about the prospects of the negotiations.

Machar's representatives wrote in their statement that the Ugandan shelling of rebel-held areas on Wednesday and Thursday led to many human casualties and claimed that Uganda was striking these areas upon a request from Kiir.

“While IGAD countries pursue peaceful solutions to the conflict, the Ugandan military is busy killing our innocent population in Jonglei State," the representatives wrote in the statement.

“We condemn in strongest terms the Ugandan involvement in South Sudan's internal conflicts," they added.

They appealed to IGAD, the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union to condemn these strikes, describing them as "barbaric" and saying that these strikes would undermine IGAD's peace efforts.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 10 Ocak 2014, 10:12