Supply problems, salary delays affect SPLA operations: general

SPLA Commander in Chief and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, May 2017 (Photo: Maal Maker, Office of the President)

A general in the South Sudanese army says delayed salary payments and lack of regular supplies to front lines are affecting the morale of the soldiers, adding that these are factors behind ‘indiscipline’ that has resulted in human rights abuses.

The military officer at the inspectorate department of the army at the general headquarters in Bilpam said Monday during an exclusive interview with The Messenger that soldiers take more than two to three months without payment while also suffering from a lack of essential supplies.

“From my experience during visits to front lines, I can tell you that there are a lot of challenges facing our soldiers and it is actually the cause of the indisciplined behaviour for which they are accused by various international human right organizations. The soldiers are operating under extreme conditions: in most case, they do not have food, they have no medicines, they have no transport and they are not paid on time — so how do they live?”

The general added, “To make things worse, most communities are hostile to them. They do not cooperate with the army, with our soldiers. The civil-military relation is very bad. It is poor. The civilians in most places see the army as an enemy force. So they have adopted uncooperative relations. This is a challenge.”

‘Civilians in most places see the army as an enemy force’ – SPLA general

The officer equated the common SPLA soldier to a misbehaving child: “From my military experience and knowledge, a soldier is like a child, which requires constant care. If you don’t pay attention to the child, it will grow up missing a lot of things and can be prone to misbehaving. This situation also applies to a soldier who has not been properly motivated and trained to know the objective of the mission.”

He admitted that SPLA military activities have been badly affected by the economic situation in the country. “You know, one of the challenges revolves around supply of food rations, fuel and  other essential items to our forces on the fronts. This has been affecting their performance and morale. A soldier needs food, he needs medicine, in case of some unfitness, he needs transport to move and more importantly a soldier needs not to be allowed to stay in one place for more than six months. There has to be redeployment.  But due to some situations, this has been one of the challenges the command at the headquarters has been unable to address and continues to be the main challenge because the solution revolves around resources to be available. But as you know, the country is in a deep economic crisis which makes  the operational plans unrealistic and unachievable. This is the problem,” he explained.

In the meantime, frontline troops lost ground to SPLA-IO rebels in northern Upper Nile after fighting Monday. According to Brig. Gen. William Gatjiath Deng, the group’s military spokesman, their troops captured Kuek, which had been under government control for several months. Another rebel group, calling itself the National Army of South Sudan, claimed in a report by the independent Radio Tamazuj that its forces took control over of a military garrison in Northern Bahr al Ghazal on Sunday.

Brigadier General Deng Maring, spokesman for the group, said that their forces captured the military garrison after attacks on their position by the government forces near the Sudanese border. Rebel presence in the border area between Northern Bahr al Ghazal and Sudanese states of West Kordofan and East Darfur goes back several years, though it has never seriously threatened the government stronghold of Aweil.

South Sudan’s army faces rebel groups also in the three Equatoria states, Jonglei, and Western Bahr al Ghazal. Supply and payment problems imperil efforts to hold territory captured during the latest dry season. Speaking with The Messenger, the Bilpam officer said that SPLA leaders are aware of the problems but seem unable to fix them. “Whenever there is a command council, I make sure the issue of delayed payment to the soldiers, lack of food, medicines and the need for redeployment after spending at least six months in one place, is one my talking points,” he disclosed.

“Sometimes colleagues push to raise these issues which get overwhelming support from the council but when we are finished with the meeting and the resolutions are passed, no actions are taken. This can be frustrating at times.”

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