Kampala — Ugandan lawmakers, at a special session held on Tuesday, supported its government's decision to deploy the national army (UPDF) in South Sudan, despite the United Nations Security Council warnings against external interventions that could exacerbate the new nation's conflict.
UPDF representative, Maj Gen Julius Oketta, speaks during the special session to discuss the deployment of UPDF soldiers in South Sudan (Daily Monitor)
Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of the Ugandan parliament said the sitting was convened to update lawmakers on the deployment of the UPDF in Juba, but not to seek their approval on the matter as many had anticipated.
But it was the country's defense minister Crispus Kiyonga who tabled the motion before lawmakers in compliance with Section 40 of the UPDF Act.
Several lawmakers, during a heated debate, said they supported UPDF presence in South Sudan provided they were there to ensure safety of Ugandans trapped in the weeks of violence.
Fighting erupted mid December in the capital, Juba after a dispute among presidential guards, but later spread to other parts of the country, killing in excess of 1,000 people and displacing 200,000.
South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar has accused Ugandan troops of backing forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, calling for their withdrawal from the country.
"We support the deployment as long as it is for evacuation of our citizens from South Sudan. When a country is going to war, leaders consult widely; we should learn to work together. What's happening in South Sudan is a result of bad governance," opposition lawmaker Wafula Oguttu reportedly said.
"We don't have sufficient resources to maintain another country in the neighborhood. The government is killing and the rebels are killing but for us to get involved we must get a clear mandate", he added.
But Uganda's Prime Minister, according to Daily Monitor newspaper, argued that the army was in South Sudan to avert an imminent threat from an "ungovernable" South Sudan.
"This is a case where unity must be demonstrated, this matter should not divide us," said Amama Mbabazi, citing Article 209 of the Constitution, which sets out the army's functions, including preserving and defending Uganda's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The army chief, Gen Katumba Wamala also argued that the situation in South Sudan was threatening Uganda's security and thus the latter had all reasons to intervene.
"We have an obligation to see South Sudan stand as a nation", he told Daily Monitor.
But Muwanga Kivumbi, an opposition lawmaker, accused President Yoweri Museveni of taking decisions without seeking parliamentary approval on matters of national interests.
"We want to know what kind of mandate the UPDF of Uganda in South Sudan will undertake and under whose invitation. Is it IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] or African Union?" he asked.
"Which arrangement are we in South Sudan? Or we are there as mercenaries to help Salva Kiir. We need to know these details", Kivumbi told reporters in Kampala after Tuesday's special parliamentary sitting.
President Museveni recently appointed Col. Kayanja Muhanga as overall commander of its army (UPDF) operations in South Sudan. His role, according to media reports, will mainly involve diplomacy, politics and military command.