‘Uganda came close to war with Sudan’
Uganda was warned by its neighbour, the semi-autonomous South Sudan, of grave consequences including war and instability, if it dared arrest indicted Sudanese leader, Omar El Bashir.
Sunday Monitor has learnt from credible sources that a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement jetted into Kampala carrying a letter from South Sudan president Salva Kirr Mayardit urgently asking President Yoweri Museveni to diffuse a situation created by Uganda’s position that it could arrest and hand Bashir to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The special envoy was Maj. Gen. Gier Chuang Aluong, the current minister for internal affairs of the Government of South Sudan. He arrived in Uganda on July 14 and had a meeting with President Museveni in the evening of the same day, literally entering State House just as President. Museveni concluded an uncomfortable session with Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the ICC.
Sources familiar with Maj. Gen. Aluong’s visit, but who cannot be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Mr. Kirr wanted to emphasise to his Ugandan counterpart the danger of even “threatening to arrest” Bashir.
Earlier, Mr Ocampo who made a surprise visit to Uganda expressly to inform the government of its obligations to arrest Bashir if he set foot in the country had held a press conference in Kampala with Minster of State for International Relations Henry Okello Oryem. It was here that the minister said if Bashir, an invitee to the recently concluded Smart Patnership meeting, arrived at Entebbe he would be served with an arrest warrant and taken into custody by the Uganda police.
“Gier said Uganda may turn into Somalia with suicide bombers making security difficult and there was the risk of war if Bashir was facing arrest” said one source with close ties to the South Sudan political establishment.
The choice of envoy itself is telling. Maj. Gen Aluong is a familiar face in Kampala and has close ties with senior members of the National Resistance Movement including former internal affairs minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and Works minister John Nasasira. He was previously minister for communications and helped set up the GoSS mobile phone network, Gemtel with the help of the Uganda government.
A statement from State House did not give any details of Maj. Gen. Aluong’s visit but simply said he and the President discussed bilateral issues. Mr. Oryem and the President’s Principal Press Secretary attended the meeting.
“The issue of President Bashir was not raised in this meeting,” Mr Oryem said yesterday adding, however, that Maj. Gen. Aluong had arrived as special envoy and consequently spent some time privately with the President.
The revelations show just how complicated the Ugandan position on Bashir’s arrest warrant is. Uganda would have been the first country which is a signatory to the ICC statute that Bashir would have visited.
“The Sudanese were very mad. They were threatening severe action against Uganda including war,” said a Ugandan delegate to the Non-Aligned States meeting which was taking place in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheik at the time.
Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa who represented President Museveni at the meeting was tasked to cool things down with Bashir who was present. Later, Bashir took a phone call from President Museveni in which the latter reportedly apologised.
Uganda and South Sudan have a close relationship having been on the same side of the long war between SPLA and Khartoum. However, today, under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Mr Kirr is also Sudan’s First Vice President.
However the Bashir indictment is also complicated at various levels. Informed sources say President Museveni had been asked by a key European nation to mediate between Bashir and rebels in Darfur whose representatives had already visited Kampala.
Consequently the invitation by Bashir would have been a pro-active attempt by President Museveni to pursue a dialogue had it not been for the intervention of the ICC prosecutor and the controversy his visit generated in the media.
At the same time President Museveni is sensitive to Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi’s emphatic lobby for Bashir to be protected by African leaders. Col. Gadaffi is chairman of the Afircan Union.
At a broader level, the alliance of Egypt, Sudan and Libya was an issue that Uganda’s Foreign Service has been fretting about for some time.
“ Gier said Salva was very concerned and insisted that the matter be resolved quickly” said the source who added that after years of SPLA fighting Khartoum, Mr Kirr who used to be the army’s intelligence chief “ knew how dangerous an enemy Khartoum can be”.