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May 16, 2013

On SPLA 30th Anniversary, Peace Eludes South Sudan

by Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar called Thursday at the 30th anniversary celebration in Juba of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) for peace and reconciliation in the country, which is still being rattled by rebellions and violence.

‘’It is our collective duty to see that peace prevails in South Sudan," Machar said at the Nyakuron Cultural Center in the capital, where thousands of people gathered to celebrate the birth of the SPLA, which grew out of a mutiny at army barracks in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state.

The SPLA went on to lead a decades-long war against Khartoum, which ended in 2005 and culminated with South Sudan becoming an independent nation in 2011.

"Whoever has rebelled and taken up arms, we should try our best to convince him to accept peace. That is our responsibility. Our president announced at the opening of parliament that our country needs a national reconciliation process," Machar said.

Machar called on rebel groups, including insurgents led by David Yau Yau in Jonglei state, who have overrun the town of Boma and have threatened to launch an attack on Pibor town, to accept an offer of amnesty from President Salva Kiir.

An end to rebellions in South Sudan would help to establish peace and allow the country to move down the road to development.

"We want to concentrate our efforts, our energy, our resources on development -- development of this country.  We want to compete with other countries who are more advanced than us and catch up to them and advance even more because we have resources -- you have water, you have the forest, you have petrol, land and cattle," Machar said.

But amid the celebrations, there are problems including ongoing unrest, particularly in Jonglei state where the SPLA was spawned, and within the SPLA, which is now the army of South Sudan, some critics said.

"In areas such as Jonglei, we have a security problem that is related to rebellion," said Juba University political science professor Simon Wassara.

Banditry and other criminal activity made other areas, including Juba, unsafe, he said, adding that "a lot more needs to be done" to address chronic insecurity in South Sudan.

He called for the SPLA to be reorganized and for educational institutions to be set up to retrain rebels who agree to lay down their arms. Many former rebels are merely integrated into the army, making the SPLA a "dumping ground for rebels," said Wassara.

Brigadier Acuil Malek, who says he has been with the SPLA since the beginning of the rebellion against Khartoum, said SPLA commanders need to listen to rank and file soldiers.

"You cannot lead people you don’t see, you cannot lead people that you do not talk to,” he said, adding that the distance between officer and enlisted man in the SPLA contradicts the founding principles of the group that was being celebrated on Thursday.

Charlton Doki contributed to this story.