By Nicholas Bariyo,
Oct 18, 2014(KAMPALA, Uganda)—Uganda will start buying weapons and other military hardware for South Sudan’s government under an agreement signed this week, sparking fears of an escalation in the nearly yearlong fighting between government forces and rebels.
The joint military accord comes at a time of faltering peace talks between the two warring sides of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and ex-vice president Riek Machar, who was sacked and accused of plotting a coup, amid fears the world’s youngest nation is on the verge of famine.
South Sudan Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said that the country would use the arms to “bolster security” and not violate the present cease-fire with the rebel army.
But James Gatdet Dak, the rebel spokesman, described the deal as Uganda’s latest effort to “empower” Mr. Kiir “to wage war.”
Neighboring Uganda dispatched troops to South Sudan in December last year to back Mr. Kiir, shortly after Mr. Machar marshaled a rebel army, following a long standing power struggle.
Uganda’s superior firepower quickly tilted the balance of power in the ethnically charged conflict in favor of Mr. Kiir’s forces, capturing several key towns and South Sudan’s rich oil region in a quick offensive. But the rebels still control large swaths of territory, and both sides continue to engage in clashes in a conflict that has displaced 1.5 million people.
“The agreement reinforces our military cooperation” said Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda, Uganda’s military spokesman. “We have shared security concerns and this [agreement] is in the interests of regional stability.”
Sudan government spokesman Rabie Abdelaty warned that Uganda’s continued presence in South Sudan risks spilling the conflict into the wider region.
Ugandan and South Sudan officials say the deal will help Mr. Kiir to strengthen his weary army. According to South Sudan officials, Beijing, which imports the bulk of South Sudan’s crude, canceled a $38 million arms supply deal in June as part of Beijing’s efforts to pressure warring parties to reach a peace deal.
It isn’t yet immediately clear where Uganda intends to source the weapons, but any escalation in the conflict would have economic and social repercussions. South Sudan has already slashed crude production by a third and plunged the country into a food crisis. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
“More weapons flowing into this conflict where both sides are using horrific tactics including targeted killings of civilians, often because of their ethnicity or presumed allegiances…will mean more abuses against civilians.” said Skye Wheeler Human Rights Watch researcher in South Sudan. “Instead we need a U.N. Security Council arms embargo urgently established on South Sudan.”.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has accused Uganda and South Sudanese forces of using cluster bombs, a charge fiercely denied by both countries.
China has been working with diplomats from the U.S. and European Union since the start of the year in a bid to find a lasting peace agreement.
But there has been little to show from the talks in Ethiopia, as both sides continue to ignore pleas from the international community to end the violence. A U.S. brokered cease-fire deal in May broke down almost immediately, and an Aug. 10 deadline set by East African mediators requiring the two sides to agree a power-sharing government expired without a deal.
Last month, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power warned that the warring sides risk the U. N. imposing long threatened sanctions if they fail to agree a deal during the current round of talks in Ethiopia. But the talks broke down last week following a disagreement over the powers to be given to the prime minister and the president in the proposed transition government.
“Nine months of the softly-softly approach to peace negotiations has failed. If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it has to make bold diplomatic efforts to bring both sides to end the fighting,” said Tariq Reibl, the head of nongovernmental organization Oxfam in South Sudan.
Some observers say that both sides have been regrouping ready to resume violence once the rainy season ends this month.
Write to Nicholas Bariyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal