, JUBA, Feb 18 – South Sudan has retired over 100 generals as part of a sweeping restructuring of the former rebel force, in a move partly aimed at demilitarising the fledgling nation’s government, officials said on Monday.
The presidential decree to retire 117 generals follows similar orders last month for 35 other generals and all six deputy army chiefs of staff.
“They all finished their time in the military service so they are retired but are paid…There must be new blood to come up for a change, because we are a new nation at last,” army spokesman Kella Kueth told AFP.
South Sudan won independence from former civil war foe Sudan in July 2011, facing a raft of challenges to rebuild the conflict-ravaged nation, including turning a bloated guerrilla army of some 200,000 troops into a regular force.
The army absorbed several former rival rebel factions – some once acting as proxy forces for Sudan – as part of peace building efforts, swallowing up large chunks of the impoverished nation’s budget.
Several of the generals now hold government positions, too.
“It is a way of separating the military and civilians, which the army has not been very good at for years. So it’s a positive change”, said one Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.
But with rebel militia forces still operating and a pension system not yet implemented, stripping army commanders of both title and salary would be a dangerous move.
“This is about cleaning up the administration and professionalizing the army, but it is a delicate process and has to be done slowly,” Matthew LeRiche, an academic and expert on the former South Sudanese rebel force said.