September 12,2012 (JUBA) – High ranking government officials, predominantly members of the South Sudan’s government Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), have held consultative meeting in the latest of a series of attempts to collectively find solutions to the challenges facing the country’s Army (SPLA).
Addressing a Security Consultative Command Council meeting on Monday, James Wani Igga, speaker of South Sudan’s National Legislative Assembly praised the army for having successfully protected the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and for guiding the conduct of referendum which culminated in South Sudan’s secession in July 2011.
However, he warned the army to remain “vigilant” against the external threats of renewed conflict along the country’s border with Sudan as well as the rebellions and inter-tribal cattle raiding and violence that have blighted the young nation over the last year.
He stressed that although the objective of the mission for war had been accomplished in the form of independence from Khartoum last year, the journey of the vision of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) remains a challenging task.
Critics of the SPLM say that the former rebel group has failed to live up to the values it fought for during the two-decade civil war.
President Salva Kiir acknowledged as much in a letter to 75 officials earlier this year asking them to account for $4 billion in missing funds. Human rights and press freedom groups have also been highly critical of the new nation’s intolerance towards dissenting voices and attempts by local civil society groups to hold the country’s nascent institutions to account.
During a disarmament campaign in the troubled eastern state of Jonglei 30 SPLA soldiers were sacked for their behaviour, although the Army has said this was not related to UN and Human Rights Watch reports alleging that soldiers were responsible for raping women and other abuses against the local population in Pibor County.
Igga called for transformation in the former guerilla movement so it becomes a disciplined and professional institution, in order to counteract the possibility of renewed conflict along its tense new international border with Sudan. Fears of a return to all-out war stoked in April during a brief conflict over a disputed oil area but have since resided somewhat.
The two sides have made progress on resuming oil production from South Sudan through Sudanese infrastructure but security and border issues remain at an impasse.
“While there has been a considerable tranquillity in military activities along the border lines with Sudan since July, the situation remains very fragile. You (SPLA) need to continue keeping a close eye” on the activities of the Sudan Armed Forces, Igga told the military meeting.
“The government of Sudan is building up presence of its troops at the border areas. These are some of the issues we discussed in this meeting. We also discussed how best the SPLA can be structured to look more organised and professional”, he further said.
The speaker accused Khartoum of backing and hosting armed rebel groups working in different parties of the country. Since independence both sides have traded and deigned accusations on backing rebellions across the shared border.
Talks between the two countries in Addis Ababa over security arrangement have stalled over Sudan’s refusal to accept an Africa Union map, needed to establish a demilitarised zone along the border.
Rebel groups in South Sudan have been accused of abusing civilians by the SPLA but the Army has also been criticised in the way it has responded to rebellions and its treatment of civilians in affected areas.
South Sudan is experiencing a number of rebellions by SPLA defectors who formed their own factions to fight the Juba-based government. Some members of the rebels fighters that fought as part of the SPLA during its two-decade civil war with the Khartoum government. After a 2005 peace deal the SPLM, the political wing of the SPLA during the civil war, came to power with the SPLA becoming the official military of South Sudan.
In July 2011 South Sudan gained independence from Sudan but the six year interim period was not long enough to transform the SPLA into a professional military and separate itself from its historical ties with the SPLM. Many SPLM officials still hold positions in country’s Army and senior officials have blamed politicians for stoking ethnic conflicts for their own ends.
Most of South Sudan’s rebellions against the SPLM government were triggered by the fallout of election in April 2010, which most international observers considered to have fallen below international standards. Independent candidates – mostly members of South Sudan’s ruling party who failed to win backing of the SPLM – accused the government of electoral fraud and intimidation.
Following the polls, which reinforced the SPLM’s hold on power ahead of the region’s January 2011 independence referendum, opposition parties also launched formal complaints accusing the ruling party of manipulating the Army into intimidate voters at polling stations, in some cases alleging the SPLA forced voters to vote for the SPLM against their will.
George Athor Deng Dut, rebelled after the National Elections Commission announced he had lost his bid to become governor of Jonglei State to the SPLM-backed incumbent Kuol Manyang Juuk. Also in Jonglei David Yauyau laucnhed a rebellion after failed win a seat representing Pibor County in the state assembly.
In Unity State Gatluak Gai took to the bush after independent candidate, Angelina Teny, the wife of South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar Teny, lost the gubernatorial race to the SPLM Governor Taban Deng Gai. Peter Gadet Yak launched a rebellion from Mayom County in early 2011 but rejoined the SPLA shortly after independence.
Athor and Gai have since died in contested circumstances after signing two separate and secret deals with the government in 2011 but Yauyau continues to pose a localised security in southern Jonglei after briefly joining the government in 2011. He accused the government of violating terms of the deal he signed with Juba over the integration of his forces into the Army, absorption of his political members into government positions and for himself to be officially appointment as a Major General.
The government says armed elements identified as loyal to Yauyau carried out an ambush in August in Nahaam village, killing 24 SPLA soldiers. Several others are still missing. Little is known about how many were wounded.
Monday’s meeting at the army base saw the attendance of Vice President Riek Machar, Defence Minister John Kong Nyuon, National Security Minister Oyai Deng Ajak, Chief of General Staff among other high ranking security officers and senior government officials. No resolutions have made public about the outcomes of the meeting although government officials who attended say the gathering assessed ways to address the country’s numerous security issues.