26 January 2014

Uganda: Kiir Never Wrote to Museveni - Speaker

Photo: Samara Scott/U.S. Army Africa
East Africa member states criticise Uganda for sending its army to fight alongside S. Sudan forces (file photo).

At an impromptu news conference in Kampala on Friday, the speaker of the South Sudanese Legislative Assembly Manesseh Magok Rundial said his president, Salva Kiir, had never written to President Museveni, requesting for military support as government officials here claim.

The surprise revelation puts new pressure on the government to produce the letter and contradicts earlier assertions of a formal request of military support from Juba, capital of South Sudan, made by President Museveni and his army officials. Angered by this revelation, some MPs are trying to sponsor a parliamentary push for the recall of UPDF from South Sudan.

Magok told journalists at Parliament that there was no formal communication between Kiir and Museveni in regard to the hurried deployment of UPDF troops to help SPLA government forces to put down a rebellion led by Dr Riek Machar, the former vice president.

"What I know is that our president [Salva Kiir] has never written any letter to President Museveni requesting for support [in this particular conflict], if such a request was made, it might have been a telephone conversation," Magok said.

Magok convened the press conference after a long wait for the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Speaker Margaret Nantongo Zziwa, whom he wanted to brief about the state of affairs back home. Magok's revelation contradicts what the junior minister for Defence, Gen Jeje Odongo, and army chief Katumba Wamala told Parliament's Defence and Internal Affairs committee recently.

"On January 9 when the committee first sat, I told them that the letter didn't exist because I had information from [the ministry of [Defence] that Kiyonga was travelling to Juba to try and get Kiir to write the letter," Kyadondo East MP Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda told The Observer on Friday.

Hours before Magok's delegation met the committee on Thursday, Gen Jeje Odongo laboured to convince the committee that the said letter existed. Asked to produce it, Jeje said he couldn't possibly have access to communication between two heads of state.

He was eventually chased from the committee. Magok's revelation threatens to discredit government in regard to the deployment of Ugandan troops.

"This information coming from the speaker [of South Sudan Parliament] is the best confirmation we can get. It is now clear that Parliament and the whole country was deceived by the government," Hassan Kaps Fungaroo, the shadow minister for Defence, told The Observer on Friday.

"What is now left is for Parliament to move a motion to recall UPDF from South Sudan," he said.

The authenticity of the Status of Forces agreement that Defence Minister Dr Crispus Kiyonga laid before Parliament on January 14 has also come under renewed scrutiny after Gen David Okwier, the chairperson of the committee on Peace and Reconciliation in the South Sudanese Parliament, told the same press conference that no new agreement has been entered between the two countries.

A copy of the agreement The Observer accessed shows that it was signed on January 10, 2014 in Juba between Kiyonga and an unnamed official of the government of South Sudan, but Okwier told journalists that the existing agreements between the two governments were signed about 24 years ago when SPLA was still a rebel group.

"The agreement between UPDF and SPLA [Sudanese People's Liberation Army] is not new, it has been there for so many years... long before this conflict began," Okwier said.

Okwier did not respond to questions about the origin of the January 10 agreement, but gave an indirect pointer that the UPDF could be paying back for SPLA's role in fighting the Joseph Kony-led Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

"For long that region was being used by LRA rebels with the backing of Khartoum to destabilize Uganda and SPLA helped Uganda to pursue them up to the Central African Republic," he said.

UPDF spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda did not return our calls at the weekend. But President Salvar Kiir recently told the media that he himself had asked Uganda to help him. While that fact is now not in doubt, Parliament will be upset if it was told of a formal letter that does not actually exist.

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