South Sudan: Fatal gunfire in Army barracks where war started

This time the gun shots that killed five were not the start of a coup, but a dispute over pay.

Jake Simkin/AP/File
South Sudanese government soldiers wait to board trucks and pickups, to head to the frontlines to reinforce other government forces already fighting rebel forces near the town of Bor, as they prepare to leave from the outskirts of Juba, South Sudan, Jan. 13, 2014.

A version of this post appeared in Lesley on Africa. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Since violence spread across parts of South Sudan in mid-December, it seemed like a relative calm had returned, at least to Juba, the capital.

(For background on the roots of the current crisis, see Radio Tamazuj’s Nine questions about the South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers and South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers (II).)

The gunfire that broke out Wednesday occurred at the same SPLA barracks in Juba where gunfights started on Dec. 15 that led to the current standoff in South Sudan.

The cause of this morning’s fighting at the Giada barracks, in which at least five soldiers were killed, appears to have been a dispute over pay, and may have involved some soldiers from Salva Kiir’s presidential guard, the Tiger Division. Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, an SPLA spokeman, stated, “This is purely an issue of salaries. It is not political and will not spread… Soldiers have not been paid since January, why I don’t know, and went to the commander seeking answers."

It appears that a new procedure for distributing salaries was the cause of this morning’s dispute.

The government of South Sudan had created a new payment system to prevent the payment of SPLA salaries to “ghost soldiers,” thereby requiring soldiers to collect their payments in person.

Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomoru stated ““The whole intention was for the good of the country. It was not meant to deny anybody their rightful dues…the intention was to build confidence in our financial systems so that the issue of transparency and accountability is not ignored.”

From the few media reports of the events surrounding this brief outbreak of violence, it appears that miscommunications about this procedure prompted the gunfight as soldiers were queued waiting for their payments.

Like the mid-December gunfights in Juba, it’s very difficult to piece together what exactly happened. But the three most helpful news sources I’ve seen thus far have been:

I’m not an expert on military compensation. But when you have segments of the military that, as one security consultant previously described it to me, are being paid not to fight the government, it’s probably best to make sure they’re paid within a reasonable period of time. Especially when you might need them to (re)establish the government’s monopoly on the use of force and retake territory held by anti-government rebels. Just a thought…

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