Uganda’s South Sudan intervention assailed

Uganda's parliament on Jan. 15 retroactively approved military intervention in neighboring South Sudan—after President Yoweri Museveni reversed his initial denials and admitted Ugandan troops are fighting there. His administration spun it in terms of humanitarian intervention, with Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga telling parliament: "That a genocide was looming in South Sudan was a reality." (Zee News) But some say the intervention could only deepen the crisis, and undermine Uganda's supposed role as a moderator in the still-fruitless peace talks being brokered in Ethiopia by regional bloc IGAD. Aly Verjee, a senior researcher for the Rift Valley Institute, told IRIN: "If Uganda deploys more offensive forces to South Sudan, there is the risk the conflict escalates and the neutrality of IGAD's mediation is undermined. A split in the views of IGAD member states will not help the peace process."

CNN reports that Ugandan troops were heavily involved in the battle for Bor, capital of Jonglei state (see map)—just taken by government troops after changing hands repeatedly since the fighting broke out last month. Accounts describe Bor as a "ghost town" in the wake of the most recent battle. It had a population of 25,000, but is now "utterly empty," and looks as if a "giant inferno" swept through the city, according to a BBC News reporter. The BBC offers no speculation on what actually happened to the town's inhabitants—what proprtion killed, or what what proportion fled. It attributes atrocities there to both government and rebel forces, and portrays the few survivors stll there bitterly divided along Neur-Dinka ethnic lines.

On Jan. 9, the Council on Foreign Relations' Africa in Transition blog noted the controversy over the number dead in South Sudan since the fighting began. An apparently low-balled UN estimate of 1,000 was compared to the International Crisis Group's count of 10,000—which by now must also certainly be way too low.

Yet there continue to be small signs of hope in South Sudan. In a petition to South Sudan's parliament on Jan. 8, the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance (SSCSA) condemned the fighting and called for the peaceful resolution. "The approaches of resolving the current crisis militarily are not welcome by civil society," said SSCSA chair Deng Athuai while delivering the petition. "We reject the continuity of war. We need peace to prevail. And we need dialogue, peace and returning home of the displaced to take place without preconditions." (IRIN, Jan. 17)