JUBA – A UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan said in a report on Friday that they have evidence suggesting that South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and the National Security Service (NSS) have continued to recruit forces into their rank and file despite the ongoing reunification process.
In the report titled “Interim Report of the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan”, experts say they have documented evidence to suggest that the SSPDF and the NSS have continued to recruit despite the ongoing reunification process provided for in the revitalized peace agreement.
The panel said it heard from senior government officials that continued government graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF) with sticks rather than guns is meant to protest against the arms embargo imposed in mid-2018 and not to show a genuine or legitimate lack of weapons.
“While some trainees reportedly graduated with sticks rather than weapons, several government officials privately conveyed to the Panel that that had been intended to protest the arms embargo, implying an inability to arm the necessary unified forces rather than reflecting a genuine shortage of arms,” the experts said in the report obtained by Sudans Post.
“It may also reflect an intention to keep the integrated forces weak relative to their counterparts in the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and other security services,” they said.
The panel said that “In many cases, Panel investigations indicate that graduates were hastily assembled or even freshly recruited. Forces were moved between training centres to facilitate graduation, leading to confusion over numbers and identities.”
“Opposition groups are counting on the success of the necessary unified forces, viewing the creation of a single unified national army as crucial for protecting their interests and influence, and they stressed to the Panel that all Forces soldiers had been “technically” graduated by means of the presidential decree on 30 August 2022.
However, it is far from clear whether the Government shares this vision for the necessary unified forces. There is no substantial deployment plan for the graduated forces. Many soldiers were simply ordered to return to their communities after graduation.
“A former officer of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition told the Panel that ‘the graduation has not made any difference in my life. I have returned to my usual activities for survival, making charcoal to sell.’”
The panel said that the graduated NUF forces only exist as poorly equipped and said that the SSPDF and the NSS have continued to carry out recruitment despite the ongoing reunification process and indicated the flaws in the financial plans for the army from the central government.
“In effect, the necessary unified forces exist only as a poorly equipped and trained parallel force. Both the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and the National Security Service continue to engage in their own recruitment, including of children, while some of the most powerful elements of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, notably the Tiger Battalion, remain outside the process entirely,” the panel said.
“The challenges associated with reforming the security sector are evident in payroll data. According to government figures, around 420,000 individuals are on the security sector payroll. Far from planning to reduce this figure, the Minister of Finance and Planning stressed in his budget speech that the unification of armed forces would increase the security sector wage bill by a further two thirds,” it added.