Six months after intervening in South Sudan to avert a bloody civil war, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) find themselves on the receiving end of numerous questions.
The 1,600 force in Juba and Bor has come under sharp criticism by South Sudan rebels over ‘preferential treatment’ while back in Uganda, the legislators are complaining over ‘sustained attempts’ at frustrating the probe into the army’s deployment in the war-torn country. The international community on the other hand is yet to be convinced about lasting peace in South Sudan.
The rebels have lashed out at the Salva Kiir government for providing preferential treatment to the UPDF soldiers. Rebel spokesperson Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang is quoted by a Sudanese online Publication, the Sudan Tribune saying that the UPDF were receiving hefty allowances from the government at the expense of the SPLA which has caused dissent within the army.
The South Sudanese government has not responded to the allegations but a three-month bonus was given to all military units following the allegations.
Back in Kampala, the government has continuously denied that the South Sudanese government is footing the bills of the army’s intervention. In fact, a surplus budget was requested – though not yet approved- to fund the war in South Sudan.
David Pulkol, a security analyst and former External Security Organisation (ESO) director, told local media in an interview that the intervention in South Sudan has yielded Uganda more harm than good. Pulkol says the partisan form of intervention, without parliament approval and without following the regional procedures has exposed Uganda to hatred from some South Sudan communities and in effect hurt the relations between South Sudan and Uganda.
Pulkol also joined the chorus of people requesting the government to release the full details of the Status of Forces agreement so that the financial cost of the war in South Sudan can be measured.
A probe by the defence committee of Parliament still hangs in balance after the investigations were prematurely abandoned. After four months of sitting, the committee members are not sure that the probe is still on-going. Defence minister Crispus Kiyonga has dodged the committee sittings where he was meant to respond to queries regarding the funding of soldiers in South Sudan and the number of soldiers that have so far been killed in the fighting.
The probe was started by Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga who directed that the defence committee look into queries raised by the Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu on the funding and operations of UPDF in South Sudan.
Queries over the funding of the war in Juba started to rise when the Defence Minister of South Sudan Kuol Manyang Juuk said his government was paying the bills of UPDF in South Sudan. Uganda’s foreign affairs minister, now UN general assembly president Sam Kutesa says the comments were only press comments and nothing else, adding that Uganda would be glad if the South Sudan government picks the bills for them.
Army spokesperson Paddy Ankunda maintains that the UPDF moved into South Sudan to avert a potential genocide and that the rest is secondary.