Cantoned forces in E. Equatoria State frustrated by delayed pass out
Forces at different cantonment sites and training centers in Eastern Equatoria State have expressed frustration over the delay in their graduation and the unification of forces as required per the peace agreement.
The weary forces from South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), Sudan People's Defence Forces (SSPDF), and Sudan Peoples Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) stationed at Owinykibul Unified Training Center and other training centers have been in cantonment for over a year as opposed to the initial planned four months according to their commanders.
Brig. Gen. Okeny George Lam, the Anyanya Division commander of the SPLA-IO at the Achwa cantonment site which currently hosts over 1,000 forces told Radio Tamazuj that their situation remains dire in terms of food and medicine and said that his forces survive by fishing.
“It is not easy to survive but in the interest of peace, we continue to push on to see that the security arrangements are implemented. The slow pace of implementation has frustrated the forces in the cantonment. It is even worse when we see our brothers and sisters who were taken from the cantonment to the various training centers. They have not been graduated up to this time but we want to assure the people of South Sudan that we have come here not to retreat,” Gen. George said.
He added, “Cantonment should be a temporary place within a short period so that people (forces) are unified and we deliver services to the people of South Sudan.”
He castigated the country's leaders for not looking after the soldiers in the cantonment.
“If forces are locked in cantonment sites and training centers while the whole security situation is frustrating, it is up to them (leaders). History will judge each one of us. You can deceive the nation now but history will always judge each one of us,” Gen. George said.
He revealed that the peace partners were overtly involved in the renewed mobilization of forces in the area and called on the ceasefire monitors to go to the ground for verification. Gen. George also urged the various armed forces and politicians to unite beyond their party interests to transform the country because the people have suffered enough.
Maj. Gen. Dr. Kobos Milton Luteng, the SPLA-IO Chief of Administration in Eastern Equatoria State-based at Nyara cantonment site, confirmed the poor living conditions of his forces and said many have deserted and returned home.
“There is lack of food for the numbers in cantonment. This has forced some soldiers to desert and escape to their homes but we wish that the implementation of the peace and the security arrangements be expedited,” Gen. Dr. Milton said. “For some reasons that we don’t know up to now, the second phase which should have been taken for training is still in the cantonment. We as the leaders of SPLA-IO are for peace. South Sudanese have suffered and this delay if we were not patient, would have affected the agreement.”
Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. John Tor Biliu, the head of the Owinykibul Unified Training Center, says he had received information from the leadership in Juba that 15 February should have been the day for graduating the forces.
“As the people in the training center, our situation is now worse as everybody knows. We do not have food and medicine. These are the things challenging us in the training center,” Gen Tor said.
Speaking to Radio Tamazuj yesterday, SSPDF deputy spokesperson, Santo Domic said, “I don’t know when the graduation will take place. The graduation is decided by the Ministry of Defence and the government. And when they graduate, the ministry will inform the army leadership so that they can plan for their deployment. So we are still waiting for instructions.”
Charles Okullu Cypriano, the chairperson for the Civil Society Network in Eastern Equatoria State called for the hasty graduation of forces and training of the second batch as per the agreement.
“They need to quickly graduate these soldiers because they are running out of patience. If nothing is done about them, it is not only going to be a danger to the community but also the leadership. So the best thing is to make sure these soldiers are graduated and they are distributed to where they should go,” Okullu said.
He noted that parties to the peace deal have demonstrated that they are not ready to fully form the government for reasons best known to themselves and that the delay creates anxiety among citizens.