October 14, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese government has signed a long-term agreement on military cooperation with Uganda, defence Minister, Kuol Manyang Juuk said on Monday.
Full details of the agreement are yet to be made public, although it’s understood it will allow Uganda purchase weapons and technological support on behalf of South Sudan if required.
The announcement came after Juuk and his Ugandan counterpart, Crispus Kiyonga held a meeting at which they discussed military and weapons cooperation.
“We have signed the cooperation agreement in order to work together and support each other”, Juuk told the state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV).
The development follows the recent visit of president Salva Kiir to the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where he attended a summit on the Standard Gauge Railway, a regional developmental initiative aimed at fostering the movement of people, goods and services across the region.
According to the minister in the office of the president, Awan Guol Riak, Kiir was able to hold bilateral discussions with the heads of state and governments in the region, including the host, president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, with whom the former discussed issues connected to peace talks in Ethiopia.
The talks, which are being mediated by the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental authority on Development (IGAD), are part of attempts aimed at ending the 10-month-long conflict, but appear to have hit an apparent deadlock recently over what executive powers should be granted to the prime minister and the president.
Museveni is among the key players in the conflict and the talks, given the Ugandan’s army’s (UPDF) deployment to the country following the outbreak of violence to fight alongside government troops, who are battling to contain an armed rebellion led by former vice-president Riek Machar.
Uganda’s involvement in the conflict has irked some countries in the region and there have been calls for the Ugandan military to withdraw.
A senior military officer told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday that the UPDF’s intervention, with its military hardware, had saved South Sudan’s leadership from being toppled.
“Out of record, I want to say that it would have taken us [a] much, much longer time to exert full control and to take back Juba, had Uganda not intervened in the last battle outside Bor (Jonglei state capital) around Jameza,” the officer said.
“The defectors and the White Army were advancing steadily towards Juba. Our soldiers were demoralised, some of them were defecting, and those who were fighting for the government were poorly equipped and hungry at the same time. It was a total mess and the leadership was disorganised,” he added.
The conflict in South Sudan initially erupted in Juba following a political dispute in the country’s ruling party (SPLM), before spreading to other key regions across the country.
The conflict took on an increasingly tribal dimension, leading to a cycle of violence between the country’s two main tribes: the Dinka, to which Kiir belongs and Machar’s Nuer group.
Thousands have been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced amid accusations of atrocities on both sides, with ongoing peace talks so far failing to yield a lasting political settlement to the crisis.