Fighting has intensified between rebels and government forces in Juba, South Sudan. There are fears that the country is sliding towards a civil war.
Obama keeps eye on tense situation in South Sudan where Americans were fired upon
UN Concerned by Reports of 'White Army' Near S. Sudan Town
South Sudan army soldiers hold their weapons as they ride on a truck in Bor, Dec. 25, 2013.
A spokesman for the U.N. mission in South Sudan says a U.N. reconnaissance mission spotted a group of armed youths about 50 kilometers northeast of the central town of Bor. He says however that U.N. officials could not confirm how many people were in the group.
South Sudan's government claims that some 25,000 armed fighters from the Machar-backed force - the so called "White Army" - planned to attack the town, which was retaken by government forces this past week. The youth, like Machar, are ethnic Nuers while President Salva Kiir and his loyalists are ethnic Dinka.
Claims of the mobilization come as regional leaders attempt to broker a ceasefire.
The tribal violence erupted earlier this month, when the president accused Machar of attempting a coup.
The United Nations says the fighting has left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced tens of thousands.
A grouping of East Africa leaders announced Friday that South Sudan had agreed to a "cessation of hostilities" and the start of peace talks. The government also agreed to release eight of 11 political prisoners suspected of plotting the coup.
But Saturday, Machar ally Rebecca Nyandeng told VOA that Machar forces will not agree to cease-fire terms until the government releases all 11 prisoners.
Machar on Saturday stopped short of accepting the government offer. He told British radio the "mechanisms for monitoring" any agreement must first be established.
Dozens of troops dead in S Sudan
Kenya deploys troops to South Sudan
Uganda Denies Troops Supporting South Sudan Leader
Internally displaced boys stand next to barbed wire inside a United Nations Missions in Sudan (UNMIS) compound in Juba December 19, 2013.
Clottey interview with Fred Opolot, Uganda foreign ministry spokesmanPlaylist
Fred Opolot said the UPDF troops would this week attempt to rescue about 2,000 Ugandan citizens trapped in South Sudan. The conflict there between supporters of President Kiir and the former vice president, Riek Marcher has reportedly left more than 500 people killed, and has forced tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes.
“Our major concern is to ensure that [our citizens] are safe, and if not they are evacuated so that process is ongoing,” said Opolot. “Uganda People’s Defense Forces [are] in Juba to secure the airport, in order to ensure that the evacuation process goes very smoothly.”
The violence in South Sudan erupted after President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, accused former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup. Machar, who is in hiding, denied the accusation.
Opolot rejected suspicions that President Yoweri Museveni supported South Sudan’s leader in the conflict.
“Those suspicions are completely unfounded,” said Opolot. “We have a lot of Ugandans in South Sudan and their security is of the most importance for us right now. It is our focus. So in as far as the UPDF is in South Sudan to prop up Salva Kiir, that is not true, and they are unfounded.”
Last week, President Barack Obama sent 45 U.S. service personnel to the region on a mission he said is aimed at protecting U.S. personnel and the U.S. embassy. In a White House statement issued during the weekend, President Obama stressed the importance of the U.S. evacuation mission and said South Sudan's leaders had a responsibility to assist U.S. efforts.
Opolot said the government in Kampala was ensuring that citizens trapped due to the conflict in neighboring South Sudan are safe and would evacuate those directly affected by the conflict.
He expressed concern about the safety of Ugandan citizens trapped in Jonglei state at the U.N. base where there have been reports of fierce fighting. Opolot said Uganda troops would this week attempt to evacuate citizens from the U.N. base.
“UPDF will attempt to make sure that they are rescued. But obviously, they have been facing some fire from the fighters there,” said the spokesman.
He said Uganda wanted to be part of the solution to help resolve the conflict in South Sudan.
“At the onset of these troubles, President Museveni did try to engage Salva Kiir,” said Opolot.
He said Uganda’s minister for international relations was part of the African Union-led delegation that held a series of meetings with both warring parties as part of an effort to resolve the conflict.
Uganda Sends Troops to Help Citizens in South Sudan
In this photo taken on Dec. 18, 2013, and released by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, civilians fleeing violence seek refuge at the UNMISS compound in Bor, capital of Jonglei state, in South Sudan.
Uganda has said it is worried by fighting that erupted this week and which threatens to plunge the new nation into an ethnic war.
Uganda backed the SPLM/SPLA insurgency led by Salva Kiir - now president of South Sudan - before it won independence in 2011.
Like other neighbors, Uganda hosted many refugees from the decades of civil war in pre-partition Sudan and worries about the two-year-old nation next door collapsing into chaos.
“We have military personnel in Juba but they are there strictly to help rescue and evacuate stranded Ugandans, some of whom are injured, and our personnel are there at the request of South Sudan government,” army spokesman Paddy Ankunda said.
“We're not involved in any military activity there.”
He denied a report in a state-owned newspaper that the troops would also help secure Juba. But two military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters securing the capital would be part of the mission.
“Some troops from Special Forces Command - I can estimate in hundreds - left for Juba yesterday,” said a source in the Special Forces Command, a unit led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's son.
“They will mainly be involved in securing the capital,” he said, adding that some had gone by plane while others were expected to travel by road.
“They're not going to participate in the skirmishes between Kiir and Machar,” he said, referring to South Sudan's former vice president Riek Machar.
Kiir, from the dominant Dinka ethnic group, has accused Machar, a Nuer, of attempting to stage a coup. The two ethnic groups have clashed in the past.
Uganda's minister of state for international affairs, Okello Henry Oryem, joined a mission of African ministers and other mediators who held talks with Kiir in Juba on Friday to try to broker peace.
News / Africa
Uganda Increases Troop Presence along South Sudan Border
In this handout image provided by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Dec. 17, 2013, a United Nation soldier stands guard as civilians arrive at the UNMISS compound adjacent to Juba International Airport to take refuge.
The violence has led to an upsurge in people trying to cross into Uganda says Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF).
Uganda temporarily closed its border with South Sudan following the violence there, but has since re-opened the border allowing traffic to flow “smoothly” from South Sudan, according to Ankunda.
He says there has not been any incidence of violence along the border with South Sudan after Uganda ended its temporary closure.
Ankunda says soldiers from the national army have been put on alert to prevent individuals or groups who he says might want to take advantage of the security situation in South Sudan to create chaos in Uganda.
“Uganda soldiers are there to defend our borders. We’ve been there under the circumstances we are not taking anything for granted. We don’t want wrong characters crossing into our country and causing havoc,” said Ankunda. “We are alert and the soldiers are on standby, traffic is flowing, fortunately the borders were open today so we are managing the situation.”
Ankunda said the increased troop presence along the border will enable the army to monitor and conduct surveillance along the 435 kilometer-long border with South Sudan.
The U.N. estimates that up to 500 people have been killed in four days of fighting in South Sudan.
Ankunda says some foreign nationals fleeing the violence have crossed the border into Uganda.
“Over 400 Kenyan citizens have crossed into Uganda, and several Uganda citizens are coming back home as a result of the situation. We have increased the flow of people from South Sudan into our country. About 1,400 people crossed the border today. They used buses [and] they were received at the border and they are back to Kampala,” said Ankunda.
He says Uganda has assured its citizens that the army has secured the border with South Sudan and on standby to prevent any violence on Ugandan soil.
“We will ensure that our side of the border is secure. We are working together with our embassy in South Sudan to extract our people who are still holed up there,” said Ankunda.
Foreign affairs spokesman Fred Opolot was quoted by the Daily Monitor Newspaper as saying Uganda temporarily closed its embassy in South Sudan and ordered the staff to seek refuge at UN offices due to the violence.
“It’s increasingly becoming difficult to communicate with our staff who have been told to seek sanctuary at the UN base. Those in the outskirts have been told to stay indoors,” said Opolot.