August 6, 2014 (JUBA) – A top South Sudanese army (SPLA) general acknowledged on Wednesday that delays in salary payments was the cause of a series of desertions in June.
- Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) at Jonglei state’s Bor airport after they recaptured the town from rebels (AFP)
At the time a number of soldiers, mostly those recruited from the Bahr el Ghazal region, abandoned their positions on the frontline and returned to their homes amid claims of preferential treatment of foreign troops.
On 16 July in Aweil, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal State, around 200 SPLA soldiers abandoned their posts and clashed the government forces due to the lack of payment of salaries.
The same scenario occurred again on 2 August, in Bunj, Maban Country in Upper Nile State, when 20 soldiers deserted and clashed with a local militia called Maban Defence Force.
For the second time a high ranking military officer loyal to the government has confirmed to Sudan Tribunethat the delay in payments was largely responsible for the serious decline in troop morale.
The army general said unlike in the civil administration, army officers are unable to raise their concerns with their superiors without the risk of being questioned or disciplinary action.
The senior military officer, who works in the directorate of finance and administration at the SPLA’s general headquarters, claimed that financial and administrative irregularities had contributed to the delay in payments, which sparked mass desertions on several fronts.
However, he maintained that the motivation for the defections was due to dissatisfaction among army ranks, rather than disloyalty to the government.
“From my experience in the directorate, I have come to know that there are a lot of issues which the government must address as [a] matter of urgency so that the issue of salaries being delayed does not cause dissatisfaction,” he said.
He said the system of promotion within the armed forces was another issue that needed to be addressed in order to boost troop morale.
He claimed that in some instances junior and non-commissioned officers had served in the same rank for more than 20 years without a promotion, adding that the lack of promotion opportunities and delays in payments limited troops’ motivation to fight a prolonged war.
The SPLA has been rocked by a series of defections to the country’s rebel faction, including dozens of top generals, since conflict erupted in mid-December last year.
The fighting, which flared after a political split in South Sudan’s ruling SPLM turned violent, has pitted government troops loyal to president Salva Kiir against rebel forces aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar.