Kampala — President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday revealed that the Uganda army have been actively fighting South Sudanese rebels led by the former vice-president Riek Machar.
Museveni also disclosed that Ugandan soldiers were killed and others injured when the Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) engaged the rebels just 90 kilometres outside Juba, just a day before Parliament approved Uganda's deployment in the world's youngest nation.
He added that the Ugandan soldiers were killed and others injured when the UPDF engaged the rebels just 90 kilometers outside Juba.
"Only the other day, January 13, the SPLA and elements of our army had a big battle with the rebel troops about 90km from Juba where we inflicted a big lost on the side of the rebels. We also took casualties and had some dead," he added without giving figures.
South Sudan's former vice-president Riek Machar denounced two days ago the direct involvement of the Ugandan troops fighting against his forces alongside Salva Kiir's army. He demanded their withdrawal from the country as a condition to accept the cessation of hostilities.
Machar also said on Tuesday the combined SPLA and Ugandan troops backed by six UPDF helicopter gunships, dozens of tanks and other heavy artilleries were defeated near Mongala in Central Equatoria state on Juba-Bor road.
President Museveni's admission of direct involvement came while he was addressing the heads of state during the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in the Angolan capital of Luanda on Wednesday.
The admission by President Museveni that Uganda is fighting on the side of President Salva Kiir confirms claims by MPs that Uganda was actively involved in fighting in South Sudan and had lost soldiers in the crisis that started December 15 in Juba.
The army had severally denied it is involved in any combat operations in South Sudan.
Questioned about the developments, Defence minister Crispus Kiyonga deflected the question to the army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, who said: "Well, the President has said it." He added: "Details are scanty at the moment but all I can say is that our forces had a very successful battle."
Speaking at the International Conference on the great Lakes Region, Mr Museveni said by yesterday [Tuesday] evening, the government of South Sudan, with the support from UPDF, had regained control of Jemeza [in Central Equatoria state on Juba-Bor road].
He also accused former south Sudan vice president Machar of planning and executing the failed coup. "... the question is: "If Riek Machar did not plan a coup in Juba, then why did his supporters capture Malakal, Bor, Akobo, etc?"
However, Machar dismissed the alleged coup attempt, saying the fighting between president guards was used as a ploy by Salva Kiir to get rid of his political opponents within the ruling party. Many South Sudanese also believe that president Museveni masterminded the plan duped as a failed coup.
In testimony to Congress, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Wednesday confirmed the involvement of the Ugandan army in the current conflict in South Sudan.
Answering a question by Congressman Randy Weber, she said the Ugandan told Washington they want to protect Key structures in Juba Nimule road which leads to Uganda and Juba airport.
"They indicated they have an interest in a stable South Sudan but also said they have an interest in ensuring that a democratically elected government is not overturned by violent means", she added.
Weber was the only congressman during the hearing to raise the Ugandan intervention in the inter South Sudan conflict, others including the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee stopped on the possible Sudanese role in the conflict but Greenfield dismissed any involvement from Khartoum side.
However during her presentation to the committee she was keen to omit mentioning the name of the Sudanese mediator Mohamed Ahmed al-Dabi who is the third member of the IGAD panel of mediators to end the conflict.
"We are encouraged by IGAD's leadership in convening the parties and strongly support the efforts of former Ethiopian Minister Seyoum Mesfin and Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo to find a peaceful solution through political dialogue", she said.