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South Sudan army downplays significance of defection in Aweil

October 11, 2016 (JUBA) - South Sudanese army (SPLA) has confirmed defection of soldiers in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, but downplayed the significance of the soldiers from its ranks and file in the army’s division 3rd infantry.

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Soldiers from the South Sudanese army (SPLA) at Jonglei’s Bor airport in January 2014 (AFP)

Major General Santino Deng Wol who is in charge of the army division from where the soldiers defected dismissed the significance of the defection in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Tuesday. He described the reports of mass defection in his army’s division “as talk of individual disgruntled officers” who deserted not because they were hungry but to satisfy their self-ambitions at the expense of nationalism and defence of the country.

General Wol warned that the army was ready to meet with whoever wanted to destabilize the stability of the area.

“Those are talks of individual disgruntled soldiers and officers who want to get everything. They have no country at heart, even where they are going, will they go and get everything they want,” General Wol told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.

“We will see. If they go and come with intention to cause havoc, we will not allow that. Our forces here know what to do when it is time to deal with such people,” he added.

The division commander was reacting to reports that up to 85 soldiers and officers have defected from the area in protest of the manner in which their own welfare and family members had been mishandled.

The spokesperson of the army, Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang, did not confirm or deny the development which reportedly occurred in the area, saying he has no official information about the defection alleged to have occurred in Northern Bahr el Ghazal region, home to the army’s chief of general staff, Paul Malong Awan.

The defecting soldiers and officers said their decision was necessitated by the fact that their family members have had to move to neighbouring Sudan in search of safety and other opportunities.

Media reports indicate that one Capt. Martin Malek had announced his defection from the government’s sponsored Mathiang Anyoor militia group with 85 soldiers. He said they would join ranks and files with armed dissidents under the overall command of Agany Ayii Ayii Akol to fight for regime change in Juba.

Observers are keen to stress that the defection is an "additional indication of the increasing political unraveling of the regime, as over the past weeks, a number of important defections have occurred at the level of high ranking military officers and from the narrow circle of decision makers in the regime."

Local officials have confirmed the development to have occurred and claimed that such development indicates that the government was politically shaking and that it was rapidly unraveling.

Capt. Malek is not the only military officer to announce defection from the government under President Salva Kiir which he served and fought against armed opposition forces under the former First Vice President Riek Machar during the more than 21 months of conflict.

Other senior officials, who defected from the government within the last one month, include Lt. Gen. Butrous Khalid Bora, Brig. Gen. Abraham Wani Youne Bondo, former Deputy Governor of Yei River state, and former deputy governor of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, John Ivo Mounto.

Many other officials, including former governors, cabinet ministers and top leadership of SPLM/SPLA in Opposition, under the leadership of Riek Machar, have returned to bush to wage another struggle to topple President Kiir’s government after the peace agreement collapsed in July.

On Monday, Lieutenant General Bapiny Monytuil, deputy chief of general staff for morale orientation announced he resigned from his position and joined armed opposition to fight for regime change.

(ST)