JUBA, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- South Sudan said Tuesday that former rebel fighters are now being integrated into the national army (SPLA) in line with the agreement between President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Taban Deng Gai last year.
Minister of Defence Kuol Manyang Juuk told Xinhua that absence of cantonment areas due to financial difficulty have forced them to directly integrate into the SPLA some former SPLA-in opposition (SPLA-IO) rebels allied to former First Vice President Riek Machar.
"We have started integrating the elements of the SPLA-IO in the Yei area. They are now being taken into the SPLA directly, because the cantonment areas are not yet in place due to lack of financial support for setting up these areas," Juuk said in Juba.
The now weakened 2015 peace agreement currently being revitalized by regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), calls for creation of cantonment areas for opposition fighters before being integrated into the SPLA.
Juuk disclosed that they are also overseeing retrenchment of some soldiers as part of the ongoing reforms at professionalizing the hitherto guerilla character within the SPLA.
"We are working out a plan for the downsizing of the army. Some elderly and wounded soldiers are some of the soldiers being removed from the army," he revealed.
He also added that the ex-servicemen upon retrenchment will be supported with pension besides tractors, water pumps to carry out agricultural activities in villages.
"We are still making plans so that we engage (retirees) them in agricultural areas, such as setting up some agricultural villages where they can be supported by tractors and water pumps, and building some modern small houses, because we can not just throw them on the streets otherwise they will pick up arms again," he said.
South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to fighting that pitted mostly Dinka ethnic soldiers loyal to President Kiir against Machar's Nuer ethnic group.
The 2015 peace agreement to end the violence was again violated in July 2016 when the rival factions resumed fighting in the capital forcing Machar to flee into exile.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions that have sought refuge in neighboring countries.