Salary dispute within South Sudan army triggers heavy gunfire in Juba

By IAfrica
In Sudan
Mar 5th, 2014
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March 5, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudan government said on Wednesday that a dispute among army units over salary payments had sparked heavy gunfire inside the main military barracks in Juba, denying reports that authorities had attempted to arrest individual officers.

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Thick smoke rises above the Geida military barracks in the South Sudan capital Juba on 5 March 2014 (Photo courtesy of Matata Safi via facebook)

A senior officer described reports that there had been attempts to arrest individual officers, including the commander of the commando unit, as “incorrect and misleading”.

The officer said the incident occurred after some officers and soldiers who were waiting for payments refused to wait in line or follow the established procedures as set down by the payment committee.

“The same group also wanted to take salaries of the colleagues whose whereabouts is unknown,” the officer said.

Defence minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said the army’s leadership would investigate what triggered the firing, applauding security organs for taking “swift action to contain the situation”.

Sounds of gunfire and heavy artillery from the Geida military barracks at about 9am (local time) today sparked panic among residents, with many fleeing their work places.

Large explosions were also heard from barracks, located south-east of Juba, the same place where violence erupted on 15 December between soldiers loyal to president Salva Kiir and those aligned with former vice-president Riek Machar.

When Sudan Tribune visited the scene, the bodies of government soldiers could be seen lying outside the military headquarters as a column of thick smoke billowed into the sky from inside the compound.

Sources told Sudan Tribune the smoke was coming from a military store that had been hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG).

Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomoru also confirmed that salaries were in the process of being paid when heavy gunfire heavy erupted inside the barracks.

“I understand that salary payment was ongoing in Geida this morning, probably differences over the procedures payment may have sparked the firing,” he said.

The government’s decision to form a payment committee was introduced to ensure wages are not paid to “ghost” workers or those who do not show up during payment period, with troops and civil servants now required to collect their salaries in person

“The whole intention was for the good of the country. It was not meant to deny anybody their rightful dues. If there are different interpretations, then let our people know that the intention was to build confidence in our financial systems so that the issue of transparency and accountability is not ignored,” Lomoru told reporters earlier today.

Head of information and public relations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) Brigadier General Malaak Ayuen also confirmed that tensions over the new payment system were behind the incident.

Speaking to reporters shortly after visiting the scene, Ayuen said the situation is now under control and the SPLA would provide further updates later today following further investigation.

Several roads in and around Juba town have been blocked by the authorities. Affected areas include Juba-Yei road where further gunfire occurred.

Disruptions to phone networks during the morning also made communications difficult.

MISUNDERSTANDING NOT REBELLION

Meanwhile, a minister in the office of the president, Awan Guol Riak, denied the incident was the result of a rebellion.

“It was just a misunderstanding which arose between soldiers. The situation is now under control,” Riak told journalists at a news briefing.

However, multiple military sources, who are part of the payment committee, told Sudan Tribune that they had been instructed not to pay those residing at UN camps or accept payment claims from a third party, regardless of the justification.

“A small misunderstanding triggered this firing and the unfortunate loss of lives.

A military source said a group of soldiers who were attempting to collect payments on behalf of their colleagues, whose whereabouts are unknown, became agitated after their requests were refused by the committee.

“We asked them (the soldiers) to inform them (their colleagues) to come so that they could be paid, but they did not want to listen to the advice of the committee and they started shouting [and] moving towards where the money was kept. This prompted intervention of the soldiers deployed to provide protection to the committee,” the source told Sudan Tribune.

The unrest appeared to be confined to the Geida barracks, although large numbers of government forces were swiftly deployed in surrounding streets, with roadblocks set up on routes leading to the airport and military headquarters.

Sporadic gunfire can still be heard in the southern part of Juba and markets remain closed, although the situation on the ground continues to be calm.

The US embassy in Juba has issued a statement, advising its nationals to stay indoors for their personal safety.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing doens of injured soldiers being rushed to Juba teaching hospital following the eruption of gunfire.

However, there has been no official comment on the number of dead or injured during the clashes.

(ST)

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