Government Soldiers Leave Juba Before Rebel Leader’s Return
Rows of soldiers in camouflage uniforms stood at attention Thursday, chanting war songs in a dusty field at Jebel Makor, 45 minutes from South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
The troops are some of the thousands that South Sudan’s army is supposed to move out of Juba before the arrival Monday of rebel leader Riek Machar.
The idea is that limiting troops in Juba will reduce the chance of clashes. The two sides agreed that nearly 5,000 government soldiers and police can remain in town, while the rebels can bring in 3,000.
But the rebels accuse the government of failing to withdraw its soldiers, and of secretly bringing in extra troops.
The army did not disclose how many troops it had in the city prior to demilitarization, nor allow international cease-fire monitors to verify the process.
Thursday, the army took journalists to Jebel Makor to offer proof that they are upholding the peace deal.
Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said Jebel Makor is one of nine sites where soldiers have been redeployed.
“We are complying. We have been complying,” Ruai said. “We keep on complying until what is required of us is met, and that is why these soldiers are here.”
Seven hundred troops stay at Jebel Makor, according to Ruai, who said the soldiers’ presence proved the army is upholding the agreement.
But Voice of America counted less than 300 soldiers at Jebel Makor. Ruai claimed the rest of the soldiers were cooking, patrolling or on sick leave.
The spokesman could not say how many soldiers have moved out of Juba. He also did not know how many were in Juba before the process began.
But Ruai insisted that the government is following the agreement, and invited international monitors to verify the number of soldiers in and outside the city.
Despite the uncertainty, Machar’s office says he will return Monday as planned and immediately be sworn in as vice president.