Kampala (AFP) - Ugandan troops have been killed fighting alongside South Sudan's army, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said, the first official confirmation that foreign forces have an active combat role in the war-ravaged young nation.
Ugandan troops deployed in South Sudan five days after fighting began last month, both to support President Salva Kiir and to help evacuate its citizens, but had so far been vague over the nature of its operations.
Museveni, speaking in at a summit meeting in Angola late Wednesday, said troops had fought alongside troops from the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
"Only the other day, 13 January, the SPLA and elements of our army had a big battle with these rebel troops at a point about 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Juba, where we inflicted a big defeat on them," he said, in a speech posted on government-run media.
"Unfortunately, many lives were lost on the side of the rebels. We also took casualties and also had some dead."
The fighting, which started on December 15, pits forces loyal to Kiir against a loose coalition of army defectors and ethnic militia nominally headed by Riek Machar, a former vice president and seasoned guerrilla fighter.
Kiir has accused Machar of trying to overthrow him in a coup, clams Machar has denied.
"Whether there was an attempted coup in South Sudan or not, the question is: 'If Riek Machar did not plan a coup in Juba, then why did his supporters capture Malakal, Bor, Akobo?'" Museveni added.
"In my opinion, if Riek Machar had not planned a coup -- and it had all been mistakes on the government side -- he could have done two things: withdraw to a remote area of the country to avoid attack and to start talks unconditionally, so as to resolve the problem quickly and not to protract it."
Uganda's parliament on Tuesday endorsed the decision to send troops to South Sudan, with the defence minister saying the army had help avert "genocide".
No announcement has been made as to how many -- and for how long -- Ugandan troops would be deployed.
Uganda, whose border lies less than 100 kilometres (miles) from Juba, is a major trading partner for the world's newest state.
Over 40,000 South Sudanese refugees have fled into Uganda since fighting broke out.