The unified forces at Masna Biira training camp in Wau on Sunday cast doubt on their chance of graduating on the 30 August deadline set by the government.
Earlier this month, the mechanism charged with overseeing the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement announced that the first batch of unified forces would be graduated on 30 August, after several failed deadlines in the last two years.
Under the peace agreement, South Sudan is supposed to graduate 83,000 unified forces drawn from the various parties to take charge of security during the transitional period.
The parties to the agreement had agreed to graduate the first batch of 53,000 forces. The graduation of the much-awaited unified forces has been postponed several times.
Speaking to Radio Tamazuj at the Masna Biira training centre in Western Bahr al Ghazal State, several soldiers said there is little chance that the government can honour its promise to graduate them as planned on 30 August.
The frustrated soldiers said they have not yet received graduation uniforms, boots and food supplies as the 30 August deadline nears.
Detista Albino, one of the soldiers at the camp, said: “Soldiers at the training centre did not give up; they have been relying on casual jobs to survive. We are tired. We have spent more than two years without food, medicines and shelter.”
“The government used to deceive us like that without any outcome. If they are going to implement this on 30 August, it would be good. Last year, they said the graduation would be in May, but it did not happen. Recently they again said the graduation would take place on 30th June, but it did not happen, and now again on 30 August,” she added.
Rahma Fatur, another soldier at the centre, said many soldiers who deserted the training camp some time back due to poor living conditions have returned in preparation for the announced graduation.
“We have heard about graduation, we the soldiers at Masna Biira, we are ready, and those who were outside have started returning in large numbers,” Fatur said.
“We have been here at the training centre without food, just ready for graduation even if there is no food, we have been here without food, and we don’t care about food. How many months have we been here without a food supply? We don’t care about food,” she said.
Meanwhile, an instructor at Masna Biira camp, Col. Monir Ramadan, said they are happy to hear about the new deadline for the graduation of the first batch of the unified forces.
“The situation of the soldiers here at the centre is something known. They don’t have shelter, no medical services and no food while there are heavy rains. So if the government has decided to graduate these forces on 30 August, it will be good,” Monir said.
“The soldiers are right now returning to the centre, but those in far places like Aweil, Rumbek and Raja are returning, but the condition of transport during the rainy season is what is delaying their arrival on time, but we hope within these few days, they will arrive at the centre,” he added.
In Western Bahr al Ghazal State, there are over 7,000 forces at the training centres, including 4,000 organized forces at Masna Biira and 3,000 soldiers in Mapel centre.
The unified forces have been undergoing training since late 2019.