The Observer (Kampala)

South Sudan: Museveni Under Fire Over War Threat

Photo: Julio Brathwaite/UN
Civilians displaced by fighting at a United Nations facility on the outskirts of Juba. Up to 13,000 civilians have sought refuge at UN compounds.

Some MPs have described President Museveni's threat of war against the rebel former Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar as reckless and urged him to disqualify himself as a mediator.

At a press conference today, the MPs demanded a recall of Parliament so that President Museveni can be put to order. On Monday, President Museveni said regional leaders would fight Machar, if he failed to honour last week's ceasefire agreed in Nairobi, Kenya.

On Monday, Museveni flew to Juba, capital of the troubled South Sudan, for talks with Salva Kiir before he issued the threats of military action against Machar.

"We gave Riek Machar some four days to respond, and if he doesn't, we shall have to go for him, all of us in IGAD. That is what we agreed upon in Nairobi," Museveni told journalists in Juba. Machar, in a statement today, condemned Museveni's threats.

Speaking at a press conference today, Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba said: "But the reasons being given by the president are worrying and disturbing because they don't portray the principle of reconciliation. He should disqualify himself as a mediator ... he is also putting at risk the lives of Ugandans in South Sudan."

Theodore Ssekikubo, the Lwemiyaga MP, argued that by making the threats, Museveni has already taken sides with President Kiir and his Dinka tribe.

"By making that statement, he abused the UN mandate as a mediator in the conflict because by issuing those threats, he took sides with the Dinka against the Nuer," said Ssekikubo.

South Sudan plunged into conflict on December 15, after a firefight among SPLA forces in Juba, the capital. The UN secretary general responded by asking Museveni to intervene to restore peace.

"There was a process for negotiations in Juba, but you go there and declare war, seriously? This is unacceptable and we must bring Museveni to order because he has gone off track," said Western Youth MP Gerald Karuhanga.

House recall:

The MPs are accusing the government of acting in breach of Article 210 of the Constitution when it sent UPDF forces to South Sudan without Parliament's approval.

"By the time he decided to deploy, Parliament had not gone on recess, even if the deployment was to help evacuate Ugandans trapped there, he ought to have consulted Parliament," said Medard Lubega Sseggona, Busiro East MP and Shadow minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Abdul Katuntu, the Shadow attorney general (Bugweri) added: "South Sudan has a political crisis which can't be solved militarily; the speaker should immediately recall Parliament to discuss the involvement of our army."

According to Rule 20 of the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure, the speaker can only recall the House upon receipt of a petition signed by at least one third of all Members of Parliament. However, this group of MPs seems unready to pursue this path having received messages today (Tuesday) informing them that Parliament's recess had been extended to February 18, 2014.

"Parliament will resume on Tuesday February 18, 2014. Postponement is due to noise from ongoing construction work, which will make meetings impossible," reads an SMS sent to MPs by Parliament's Public Relations Manager Helen Kawesa.

Parliament went on recess on December 20, 2013 which had been scheduled to last till February 4, 2014.

"Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that we can push for a recall and succeed because the speaker is advancing lack of space as one of the reasons for the extension of the recess," Niwagaba told The Observer.

The MPs insist that Museveni can still contact Kadaga to recall Parliament to allow the deployment of the UPDF in South Sudan, but Parliament's spokesperson Helen Kawesa told The Observer that Parliament can only be recalled under Rule 20 of Parliament's Rules of Procedure.

"Let them be advised to follow the Rules of Procedure, Parliament can only be recalled from recess through the process spelt out in Rule 20," Kawesa said.

Shallow call:

But the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, Ofwono Opondo, described the MPs as "stupid and shallow" and urged them to concentrate on their village politics.

"They don't understand what is going on in the world. The president was communicating the position of IGAD of which South Sudan is a member," Opondo said.

"We are, however, glad that as those MPs continue to badmouth the president, Riek Machar has responded and sent his team of negotiators to Addis Ababa for the talks."

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