Uganda People's Defence Force troops assemble beside their vehicles in Bor in 2015. Picture: AFP/ Samir Bol

Kampala - Uganda has been accused of redeploying its troops inside South Sudan by the world’s newest country’s opposition forces, in breach of an August 2015 peace agreement which demanded their withdrawal.

A senior military official of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO), under the leadership of the First Vice President Riek Machar, said convoys of hundreds or thousands of forces of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) were seen “sneaking” back into South Sudan last Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Ugandan troops have crossed the borders back into South Sudan. We don’t know about their intention,” the anonymous senior SPLA-IO military officer, who is also a member of the Joint Monitoring Ceasefire Committee (JMCC) that monitors implementation of the permanent ceasefire and security arrangements, told the Sudan Tribune on Monday.

According to the SPLA-IO military officer, Ugandan forces entered Eastern Equatoria state, east of the capital Juba, while another convoy entered Central Equatoria, south of Juba.

“This is a serious violation of the peace agreement,” said the SPLA-IO officer.

The South Sudanese peace agreement brokered by the East African regional bloc, IGAD, and signed by top rival leaders, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Machar, only allowed Ugandan troops based in Western Equatoria under the African Union (AU) mandate to continue hunting for rebels of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the leadership of Joseph Kony, reported the Tribune.

The opposition official of the SPLA-IO said the sudden and illegal redeployment of the UPDF inside South Sudan was a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty which he also said raised suspicion about their intention during this time of peace.

He added that regional and international bodies, such as IGAD, AU and the United Nations should put pressure on Uganda to withdraw its forces and stop “meddling” in the internal affairs of South Sudan.

However, UPDF spokesman Paddy Ankunda said he wouldn’t even waste his time commenting on the issue.

“It’s nothing but lies and loose talk. It’s all fabricated. Our forces are not in South Sudan. If we were there I would know about it,” Ankunda told the African News Agency (ANA) Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Tribune reported eyewitnesses confirming the presence of Ugandan forces crossing the border into South Sudan only five months after their withdrawal.

The witnesses claimed the foreign forces said they were hunting for gunmen associated with Ugandan opposition forces.

Several weeks ago several dozen Ugandan villagers were abducted from northern Uganda into South Sudan by unidentified gunmen raising suspicions that they would be used to supplement the manpower of armed militias there.

There have also been repeated incidents of South Sudanese gunmen raiding Ugandan farms and homesteads in the north after illegally crossing the border.

“In late April, armed Dinka gunmen crossed the border into Elegu in a cattle rustling raid and stole 160 cattle from a local homestead,” said Doka Mudathir, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) Field Assistant for Adjumani, near the South Sudan border.

“They were pursued by Ugandan forces but only four cattle were recovered. During the raids they shot several Ugandans dead and stole hundreds of cattle. The porous borders make it easy for infiltrators to cross illegally,” Mudathir told ANA.

Before South Sudan’s civil war, UPDF troops crossed the border into South Sudan days before the December 2013, crisis erupted to fight on the side of President Salva Kiir’s forces against the then opposition leader Riek Machar.

The Ugandan forces were backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and other armoured vehicles and claimed they were fighting to prevent genocide in South Sudan.

– African News Agency