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JUBA - 30 Apr 2023

Dispute over command structure delaying deployment of unified forces

Necessary Unified Forces graduate in Unity State on 14 January 2023. [Photo: Radio Tamazuj]
Necessary Unified Forces graduate in Unity State on 14 January 2023. [Photo: Radio Tamazuj]

A disagreement among the peace parties over the middle command structure is delaying the deployment of the unified forces, a government official said.

In August last year, South Sudan graduated its first group of unified armed forces from former rival groups. The goal is to graduate 83,000.

President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Riek Machar and other political leaders have been slowly implementing a peace deal signed in 2018 to end five years of civil war. The parties to the agreement further delayed the transition period leading to the country’s first elections until December 2024.

The first batch of the unified forces graduated without firearms, with the government blaming the arms embargo on South Sudan imposed by the United Nations Security Council. They carried wooden guns instead.

Speaking to reporters after the cabinet meeting in Juba on Friday, Information Minister Michael Makuei said the parties of the agreement have not yet agreed on the middle command of the unified forces, causing delays in their deployment. 

“Up to now, we have not agreed on the middle structure of the command. The higher command is already addressed, but the middle and the lower are not addressed. There are so many officers who are in the opposition forces; officers are more than the NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers]. So unless that is addressed, we will not be in a position to say, now let us unify the forces and deploy them because people have to be organized and this has not taken place up to now,” he explained.

Makuei also attributed the delays in the deployment of the unified forces to the lack of firearms due to the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations.

 “The opposition forces are not armed and if they are not armed, should we deploy them also with sticks? Because last time I have been saying every now and then that these people will graduate with sticks and we did so. Should we also deploy them with sticks? No, because deployment means taking full assignment of implementing your responsibility, and as such, if these people are not armed, I don’t see any opportunity for the deployment of unarmed forces,” Makuei said.

“As long as the arms embargo is not lifted, and it is the international community which is on our neck also calling for the deployment of these forces, then we will see if we will deploy them with sticks as we did before when we graduated them without arms,” he added.

Reacting to Makuei’s remarks, Ter Manyang, the Executive Director of the Centre for Peace and Advocacy (CPA), expressed concerns over delays in the implementation of security arrangements, saying there is no sign that the government is preparing the country for elections.

 “We are approaching 2024, and there is no sign for this country to have elections in 2024. If the issue of the deployment of the unified forces becomes another challenge, then there will be no elections in 2024,” he said.

 “The issue of arms embargo cannot prevent us from deploying our forces, and also when they talk about the arms embargo, this is another way that will make the international community believe that the parties to the agreement are not serious about the implementation of the agreement,” he added.

 The civil society activist urged South Sudanese leaders to do everything necessary to move the country out of transition and conduct free, fair and creditable elections in 2024.