June 13, 2014 (RUMBEK) – Over 300 soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA), of which 167 are from Lakes state, have deserted their military bases in Upper Nile state and returned home.
The soldiers expressed their disappointment at the SPLA management, accusing its leadership of failing to pay their salaries for six months.
An officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that decision was taken to withdraw from the conflict zone areas due to the non-payment of salaries and the economic hardships faced by their families at home.
The 2012 ban on the sale of alcohol, of which many Lakes state women were dependent for their livelihood, has left them without any alternative source of income.
“We have withdrawn because this comrade [Lakes state governor] Matur Chut Dhuol have also abused our children and wives on several occasions – he suspend sale of alcohol and [there is] no economic alternative for our children,” the officer said.
“We are on [the] frontline and our children have no school or good place to stay and our life is in danger,” he added.
The officer said the governor had failed to take care of orphans and war widows, adding that it was not worth being killed or injured on the frontline if their wives and children were going to be abandoned.
“It is better I remain poor while alive and to raise my children like any ordinary citizen of South Sudan,” he said.
After leaving their positions many of the soldiers occupied Rumbek’s freedom square before travelling onto their villages in Lakes state or other areas in the Bahr el Gazal region on Saturday.
The officer said Lakes state and South Sudan would fall apart if the leadership continued to ignore the interests of its citizens continued to be ignored.
“Now you can hear from [president] Salva Kiir to maintain [the] governor also in power while our interest is not served, than, the solution is that we must put down [our] arms,” the officer said.
Last month 68 soldiers were admitted to Rumbek Hospital following clashes between rebels and SPLA forces in Unity state, with 47 of the wounded still under medical care.
A group of lawmakers visited the hospital where they distributed small monetary donations and food stuffs to soldiers.
SPLM caucus team leader Veronica Philip Dak the visit was aimed at boosting morale among wounded personnel.
The SPLA has been hit by a number of cases of desertions, as well as defections to the armed opposition, since conflict erupted in the country six months ago amid escalating political tensions within the ruling SPLM.
The fighting has pitted government forces loyal to Kiir against rebels aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar.
On Thursday, the SPLA conceded that a section of disgruntled soldiers angered over unpaid salaries had left their positions Jonglei state’s Gadiang last week.
At the time, Army spokesperson Colonel Philip Aguer denied rebel claims that soldiers had deserted on multiple fronts, including Unity and Upper Nile states.
In March, scores were killed following a dispute over salary payments sparked military clashes at the main army barracks in the capital, Juba.