Uganda's foreign ministry spokesman says the country is playing a critical role in regional efforts to resolve South Sudan's security situation, despite criticism that the government in Kampala is undermining ongoing peace negotiations between warring factions in Ethiopia.
Fred Opolot says Uganda's opposition groups are politically shortsighted in their criticism of the role the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) is playing in support of President Salva Kiir's government in Juba.
"The UPDF has been in South Sudan for years even way before this current conflict. Riek Machar knows it, and Ugandans know it. So, really their comments are not helpful," said Opolot.
South Sudan's former vice president Riek Machar accused the UPDF of supporting troops loyal to President Salva Kiir in the conflict. But, Opolot denies that Kampala's support for Mr. Kiir is thwarting peace negotiations.
"Uganda's role is not undermining the peace negotiations. In fact Uganda's role in South Sudan has ensured the protagonists are actually engaging each other," said Opolot. "Really, if Uganda has transgressed any international protocol, first and foremost IGAD (a regional group) I am sure would have brought Uganda to order. But Uganda is seen as a facilitator of the current process in South Sudan albeit the continued fighting."
Uganda opposition groups say the UPDF role in supporting the government in Juba could subject citizens trapped in South Sudan to reprisal attacks. But, Opolot disagreed.
"I really hope not because the UPDF went into South Sudan with three objectives, first and foremost to evacuate it citizens, secondly to ensure that [there is] humanitarian access in areas of the conflict is clear, thirdly to ensure that the strategic facilities in South Sudan are safe and that obviously is by the invitation of South Sudanese government," said Opolot.
He urged allies of Mr. Machar to raise their concerns about Uganda's presence in South Sudan to mediators at the ongoing peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Opolot also refuted criticism by some that Uganda's strong backing of the government is hurting efforts aimed at bringing about a ceasefire. He says Uganda's efforts are firmly in support of regional objectives to end the conflict.
"Uganda has not been partisan at all," said Opolot. "The government of South Sudan is dealing with the government of Uganda. Before Uganda went to South Sudan on invitation by the government there, heads of state of IGAD met and acknowledged Uganda's role in South Sudan. If there were to be dissatisfaction of Uganda's role, I'm pretty sure that the IGAD members would bring Uganda to book."
Opolot says Uganda's effort in trying to find a solution to the conflict in South Sudan has the support from both regional leaders as well as the United Nations.