Kenya started the withdrawal of its troops from South Sudan peacekeeping mission with 100 Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers arriving in the country from Juba.
The soldiers arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport aboard an Ocean Airlines plane and 100 were expected later in the day. The soldiers were part of troops seconded to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in Wau region. They landed aboard the hired jet and were received by the commander of KDF’s Eastern Command Maj Gen Benjamin Biwott.
Military spokesman Lt Col Paul Njuguna was present. Maj-Gen Biwott said the withdrawal followed an order by President Kenyatta, following the sacking of Lt. General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as Force Commander of UMISS on basis that he failed to protect people of South Sudan.
“We are happy and committed to serve in the missions. We have been serving in the peacekeeping missions since 1979 in 24 countries,” said Maj Gen Biwott.
On landing at JKIA the troops who carried light racksacks were taken for a debriefing before they could be redeployed to their original stations. Kenya has 995 of its soldiers deployed in Wau, 166 in Aweil and 304 in Kuajok – which are all the hotspots of violence in South Sudan.
It has 30 staff officers and 12 military observers in the three key areas. While announcing the withdrawal of the troops, on November 3, President Kenyatta said they will no longer contribute to a mission that has failed its mandate and which has now resorted to scapegoating Kenyans.
“Peace will not come to South Sudan by blaming a Kenyan commander for the wider failings of the Mission to South Sudan. We intend to withdraw Kenyan troops from the mission and will discontinue our contribution of troops to the proposed Regional Protection Force,” he said.
Meanwhile, fighting broke out in Kaya, near the border between Uganda and South Sudan, leaving an unconfirmed number of soldiers dead as well as several civilians including children, according to survivors who fled the town.
Many people reportedly crossed from Kaya to Oraba on the Uganda side, with children and women sitting on the road waiting whilst others got into cars with their belongings heading toward safety in Uganda.
Fleeing residents say that they saw up to nine bodies of armed men laying dead on the ground in Alikate area in Kaya. They also said they saw near a bridge the bodies of several children, estimated to be four in number.
At least one SPLA officer holding a high rank was killed by SPLA-IO in the fighting, residents said, though this was not yet independently confirmed.
Ugandan police deployed toward the border in pickup trucks blocking Ugandans from crossing toward Kaya, while allowing civilians leaving Kaya to escape.
Kaya is located near the borders of Congo and Uganda. Some of the civilians who fled crossed into Congo first and from there into Uganda.