By AFRICA REVIEW Correspondent |Monday, October 12 2015 at 17:44
Uganda has started pulling its troops out of South Sudan – 48 hours after the UN Security Council ramped up the pressure on warring parties to the conflict and their foreign allies.
In a statement issued on Monday afternoon, junior foreign affairs minister Henry Okello Oryem said Uganda would comply with a Security Council resolution passed on Friday October 9 but participate in a multi-lateral ceasefire monitoring exercise.
“UPDF has with immediate effect from today started to pull out of South Sudan,” Mr Oryem said.
Uganda deployed its troops in South Sudan in mid-December 2013 to shore up President Salva Kiir’s government soon after fighting broke out with troops loyal to former vice president Riek Machar. Although they were quickly praised for enabling the evacuation of foreign nationals and maintaining a balance of power between the warring factions, the Ugandan troops soon became drawn into the internal conflict.
Under a peace deal signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between Mr Kiir and Dr Machar on August 17, all foreign forces were supposed to leave South Sudan in 45 days. However, the Ugandan troops remained in the country after the deadline expired as both sides exchanged accusations over ceasefire violations, forcing the UN Security Council to intervene.
There are no official figures about how many Ugandan troops are in South Sudan but at least 3,500 are believed to be based in Bor, the biggest base, with others deployed at the international airport in Juba, and in Nesitu, south of the capital.
A neutral force will be deployed in South Sudan once Ugandan troops leave but it is not clear yet how big the force will be or which countries will contribute soldiers to it.
Apart from renewing the calls for foreign forces to withdraw from the country, the Security Council also expanded the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) until December 15 and authorised it to use any means necessary to protect civilians, monitor and investigate human rights violations and create conditions necessary for the implementation of the peace agreement.
The Security Council also said it was “anticipating with interest” the findings and recommendations of a report of inquiry commissioned by the African Union into the South Sudan conflict, but which hasn’t been made public since June when it was tabled.
The report is expected to apportion blame for some of the worst atrocities in the conflict in a country that gained independence from neighbouring Sudan four years ago after two decades of civil war.
In its resolution the Council expressed “grave concern” about reports suggesting there are “reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity, including those involving extrajudicial killings, rape and other acts of sexual violence, enforced disappearances, the use of children in armed conflict, and arbitrary arrests and detention have been committed by both government and opposition forces, and noting that such crimes constitute actions that threaten the peace, security and stability of South Sudan”.
The publication of the report could trigger an investigation by the International Criminal Court.