Unification of army command, graduation of forces in jeopardy as gov’t falters yet again
The unification of the government and opposition armed forces into a national army seems to have again hit a snag after President Salva Kiir last week said the government would soon graduate 53,000 soldiers and the National Transitional Committee’s (NTC) Tut Gatluak reiterated that the unified forces will be graduated after the recent Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday.
“We have directed all the relevant security committees, based on the directives of the president, to visit all the training centres,” NTC chairperson Tut Gatluak was quoted as saying in a statement, “We can assure you that after the Eid al-Adha, we will start graduating all the forces in the training centres.”
A security source who preferred anonymity intimated that President Kiir is not happy with the high numbers of senior officers and commanders in the armed opposition groups, especially Dr. Machar’s SPLA-IO and that some of them are civilians who have just been given high military ranks. He said President Kiir wants these ranks pruned and downsized, leading to further delays in the unification of the armed forces.
However when Radio Tamazuj contacted SSPDF spokesperson, Gen. Lul Ruai, he said there was no progress on the matter of graduating or unifying forces as the SPLM/A-IO leader, Dr. Riek Machar had asked for time to reorganize his forces.
“There is still nothing new. At the time, the First Vice President had asked the President to give him one week to reorganize his (SPLA-IO) forces. So, I do not have the latest update on how far he went with the reorganization of his forces, especially the downsizing of ranks. There is nothing new,” Gen. Ruai said.
For his part, the SPLA-IO spokesman, Col. Lam Paul Gabriel, said he could not say much about the graduation of the forces but that the current priority is the unification of command.
“At the moment, I cannot say much about the graduation of forces because currently, the priority is the unification of command. They have to unite the leadership of all forces between the government and the opposition, starting with the military, Police, Prison Service, and National Security Service,” Col. Lam explained. “All these procedures should be finished by the Joint Defense Board (JDB) and they would write their recommendations and it has been presented to the office of the president and his deputies. So if there is going to be graduation or any reunification process will be communicated by the top leadership.”
Reminded that his boss, Defense Minister Angelina Teny, earlier in the year promised that the forces would be graduated before 31 May, Col. Lam said the defense minister does not make the final decision on the issue.
“If the minister gives an order to the JDB, they will do their tasks and give a new timetable so the minister would announce any decision based on their recommendations. This is what made the minister announce that the graduation was going to happen before 31 May. As we all know, the minister is not the final person to decide on this matter. The president has to give a green light for this thing to take place,” Col. Lam said.
Asked about the situation of the forces in training centres and cantonment, Col Lam said, “Their conditions are not that good. Forces at training centres and cantonment sites are still suffering due to lack of food and if there is food, it is not enough. They also lack medicines and now the rainy season is here and some of them would need shelters. They are suffering. All these reports have been presented to the NTC, they are the only body that can decide over this.”
Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the erstwhile SPLA-IO Chief of General Staff, seems to have also thrown a spanner in the works in Dr. Machar’s calculations by refusing to be relieved of his position.
Gen. Gatwech, who now seems to be commanding a faction of the SPLA-IO, has in the past repeatedly called for the proper implementation of the peace agreement, especially security arrangements. He has in the last year repetitively called for the training and unification of forces as stipulated in the peace agreement.
Under the September 2018 peace deal, South Sudan is supposed to train and graduate 83,000 personnel to take charge of security during the ongoing transitional period.
The unity government formed in February 2020 has in the past cited financial constraints for the delay in the graduation of unified forces.
The formation of a unified army in South Sudan is a cornerstone of the peace agreement.