Ugandan military convoy Inside South Sudan to evacuate citizens
A heavily-armed Ugandan military convoy has crossed into conflict-ridden South Sudan in a bid to evacuate thousands of Ugandan citizens trapped by recent violence in the capital, Juba.
The convoy, composed of some 50 trucks escorted by armored vehicles with machine guns mounted on them, entered South Sudan from the country’s southern border town of Nimule early on Thursday to evacuate the Ugandans in Juba, which is some 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the north of the entry point.
The convoy seeks to open a safe corridor through which civilians can flee the violence by bandits and renegade soldiers in the capital.
A bloody civil war in South Sudan began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup against him. The two parties then got involved in a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the impoverished country along ethnic lines. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and some three million others forced from their homes in the war.
The two sides eventually signed an agreement in August last year to bring the conflict to an end. As part of the deal, Machar returned to Juba in April to take up the post of vice president in a national unity government. Despite the peace deal, battles persist across the African state.
On Friday, Kiir and Machar held a meeting in the capital to discuss differences and end the hostilities that continue in the capital. The meeting, however, was overshadowed by a gunfight between the guards of the two sides, then turning into a fierce fight across Juba, killing over 150 soldiers and loyalists from both sides.
The two rivals, however, reached a shaky ceasefire on Monday, which has reportedly been holding so far.
On Wednesday, Machar’s spokesman, James Gatdet Dak, said the vice president withdrew his troops to the outskirts of Juba, assuring that he was not planning to engage in a war.
According to the United Nations (UN), some 7,000 South Sudanese people have so far taken refuge at its compounds. Thousands of others are clamoring to cross the border into Uganda.
Ugandan army chief Brigadier Leopold Kyanda said Thursday, “We plan to go to Juba to extract 3,000 Ugandans stranded by fighting, but that number may grow as we will evacuate anyone who wants to leave of any nationality. There may even be some South Sudanese who want to leave.”
Due to the enforcement of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of Machar’s forces, Juba is “totally peaceful and calm,” Kyanda said, adding that the problems facing evacuation could be on the roads, where “there are some few thugs” at large.
According to Kyanda, the mission might last two or three days.
The UN has urged the warring parties in South Sudan to respect the ceasefire and allow humanitarian assistance to reach people. The world body has also called for open borders to allow safe passage for people wanting to flee.