South Sudan army integrates largest militia

By Skye Wheeler

JUBA, Sudan, June 10 (Reuters) - South Sudan's largest militia has been integrated into the autonomous southern army, a move analysts said was likely to break south Sudan's budget but was vital for political stability.

Under a January 2005 peace deal, the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) formed an autonomous government in Juba, a north-south coalition government in Khartoum and agreed to share oil wealth from around 500,000 barrels per day with the central government.

SPLA spokesman Kuol Diem Kuol said South Sudan President Salva Kiir had named some 3,657 officers leading 31,000 soldiers who would now be integrated into the SPLA.

The 31,000 soldiers belong to the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF), loyal to the north during the war and led by Paulino Matip, who signed a deal last year with Kiir.

"Today there is no SSDF," Kuol told Reuters. "The forces will be distributed into the six divisions of the SPLA."

But with the SPLA already struggling to pay the salaries of its own soldiers, sparking some violent outbursts, the move is likely to push south Sudan's budget into the red.

Acting minister for finance Gabriel Changson Chang denied army payment problems came from his office, but added spending may be cut in the face of lower than expected oil revenues.

"We're not going to write any new budget but (are) going to scale down expenditure to tally with cash flow," said Chang.

South Sudan spends approximately $550 million a year on its army, around 40 percent of the total budget.

John Ryle, an expert on south Sudan, said it would be expensive but the money would have to be found somehow.

"It's a serious problem but it is extremely important that it is resolved," he said. "It is worth it because it is vital for the political stability of the south."

The SSDF is the south's largest militia. Kuol said SSDF soldiers would now be paid and treated as equals with SPLA troops and were moving into SPLA barracks throughout the south.

Under the 2005 peace deal, the north and south have separate armies. By July 9, all northern army forces should be redeployed from the south and all militias should join either army.

A breakaway SSDF faction led by Gordon Kong has not yet agreed to join either army. Sudan's north-south civil war claimed 2 million lives and forced more than 4 million from their homes.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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