June 12, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army (SPLA) has admitted for the first time on Thursday that a section of disgruntled soldiers angered over unpaid salaries left their positions Jonglei state’s Gadiang last week.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) patrol the streets of Jonglei state capital Bor (Photo: Reuters)
Army spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer told Sudan Tribune in a phone interview that the number of deserters had been “exaggerated in the media”.
“We don’t know the exact number [of deserters], but that is not a new thing,” said Aguer.
Earlier this week, opposition forces claimed that soldiers had deserted on multiple fronts, including Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, for unknown reasons.
Aguer, however, denied reports of further desertions in other conflict-affected areas, adding that salary payments to soldiers had been sent this week.
“The situation is being handled and [an] investigation is taking place to what happened, but I want to make it clear that we are still in control of Gadiang,” he said.
He also dismissed reports of a “security vacuum”, saying a number of soldiers had remained in Gadiang.
Thousands of soldiers have deserted the national army since conflict broke out in mid-December last year following a split in the ruling SPLM.
The fighting has pitted government forces against rebels aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar, with several key areas changing hands several times throughout the conflict.
There are claims that 60 to 70 percent of SPLA soldiers have defected to the rebel movement, but the government has not confirmed the figure.
Poor conditions, frustration over the lack of political will to resolve the conflict and non-payment of salaries have been blamed for defections.
Scores died in military clashes at an army base in the capital, Juba, in March following a dispute over salary payments.