Poverty, Hunger and Corruption Prevail in South Sudan’s Fighters Camps

MENA Research Centre- Sudan

In southern Sudan, the fighters’ camps live dire situation, where poverty, hunger and corruption are widespread. These camps were mainly established to be the nucleus of an army that would help in ending the five-year civil war, during which around 400,000 people were killed. The camps that include a large number of fighters some of whom belong to the government forces; are now living miserable conditions, especially since the food supplies have either expired or have been stolen due to corruption, not to mention the scarcity of health products there.

A civil activist in Southern Sudan informed MENA Research and Study Center that more than 200 pregnant and breastfeeding women and suffer difficult conditions in the Rajaf Police Force Training Camp that is established within the terms of the security arrangements for the active conflict settlement agreement.

Betty Sandy, Head of the Women’s Department at Cebu Organization and a member of the Southern Sudan Women’s Network Monthly Platform, explained that 140 pregnant women and 133 breastfeeding women out of 888 women in Rajaf Police Force Training Camp suffer critical humanitarian conditions and do not have access to basic services for women in the camp.

Sandy added that the training camps include more than 500 children who lack good services and humanitarian conditions.

Betty has sharply criticized the pre-transitional period committee responsible for the funds of implementing security arrangements. She accused the committee of failing to provide services to the forces in training camps, although the concerned authorities had provided the needed funds. She pointed out that trainees in the camp do not receive good services and their conditions are horrible.

“In the camps of Qroom and Rajaf, there are no bathrooms, clean water services or tents, we have distributed 700 tents, and the number of troops is more than 6 thousand soldiers,” she said.

Soldiers Have Left the Camps

The lack of food and medical supplies has prompted hundreds of opposition fighters in South Sudan to leave the training camps that were established register and train them under an agreement to end the war in the country, according to the authorities.

The process of gathering fighters in camps with the aim of forming a unified army of 83,000 soldiers is one of the pillars of the peace agreement that was reached in September 2018. However, this process was delayed and there was lack of funding, which disappointed the fighters and rattled their readiness.

At one of the largest gathering sites for opposition fighters in the village of Bantit near the northern town of Awel, hundreds of soldiers sleep under trees and are forced to sleep with local residents in their mud huts, known as tukul, when it rains.

General Nicodemus Ding Ding, in charge of the camp, said they had not received food supplies for more than two months. “We ran out of food and now we have no food left,” Ding said, adding that about 700 registered soldiers left the camp due to these circumstances.

“We eat the food of local people, we go to farms with them and collect peanuts from their farms to survive,” he added.

Informal Work

“Several key commanders have instructed their forces to remain outside the path of security reunification, keep their weapons and prepare for fighting,” a UN report said. The report added that the role of training camps is limited to “basic ethical guidance and not any substantial military training.” Meanwhile, the sectarian fighting spreading in parts of South Sudan has killed hundreds of people this year. This increases the need for properly trained and equipped security forces.

At the Police Training Center in Malakal, which contains more than 3,000 people, the women decide to sell tea and make charcoal to collect money to survive.

Veronica Akiij, 41, said she decided to work as a tea lady to support her family. Awin Deng, 39, said she stayed up at night baking bread to sell. She hopes to be part of the first batch of police officers to graduate from training but has seven children to support.

“We are tired of this situation,” said Nyakuma Oyen, 25.

During a recent tour of the training sites, Defense Minister Angelina Teny acknowledged the challenges. “It is not your fault, because 1,000 South Sudanese pounds $7 cannot buy you a sack of flour. The situation is forcing you to do that,” she said of the informal work.

Not Providing Aid

South Sudan’s civil war largely destroyed the health system and other basic services, leaving women especially exposed. Human rights groups and medical charities reported many women were raped after going out to find water or wood. That threat remains, even for the trainees.

At the Panyier training center in Bor, which hosts more than 1,800 people, Nurse Monica Achol Agwang said she has examined many cases of sexual assault.

Aguang, 38, said that “Some get pregnant and experience a miscarriage during training in the field.” Transferring women to town for proper treatment is difficult, with poorly constructed roads and frequent flooding.

 Dozens of people are infected with HIV, an alarming rate, she said. And yet there isn’t enough medicine even for other sexually transmitted diseases.

Now the COVID 19 has made the situation worse, as 10 people sleep in a tent that accommodates 6. That’s on top of the indignity of asking for the sanitary pad, and not having any.

The head of the Panyier training center, Brig. Gen. John Aciek Ajith, accused the government’s Joint Transitional Security Committee of not delivering needed aid since June. Thus, he has requested help from other military divisions.

Major General Chol Martin with the military’s Division 8 said his soldiers are no longer receiving their salaries and most have started to support themselves by fishing or selling charcoal.

He said he tries to help by allowing them to sell food from the storeroom. Most of the food is expired, Martin said, and yet some soldiers eat it, which affects their health.

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