JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan has reached a milestone in its recovery from civil war, graduating its first group of unified armed forces from former rival groups on Tuesday.
President Salva Kiir called on the more than 20,000 new troops and other forces to refrain from political and ethnic divisions after they successfully completed basic training.
“From today you are not military wings to any party,” Kiir said. “Now you belong to the South Sudanese people.” He called on them to treat all South Sudanese equally.
South Sudan has been slowly implementing a peace deal signed in 2018 to end five years of civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Earlier this year, Kiir and rival-turned-deputy Riek Machar said the transition period leading to the country’s first elections since independence from Sudan in 2011 would be further delayed, until 2024.
More than 50,000 unified forces are expected to graduate this year and will take part in national security, police, prison services and even wildlife services. The goal is to graduate 83,000.
The new forces graduated without firearms, with the government blaming the arms embargo on South Sudan imposed by the United Nations Security Council. They carried wooden guns instead.
Machar, a former leader of opposition forces, called the security arrangement a backbone of the peace agreement. “I believe a new era has started,” he said.
“With this uniform, this uniform is for the nation,” said Edmund Yakani, executive director for the civil society group Community Empowerment for Progress Organization.
The visiting president of neighboring Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, said South Sudan has the potential to grow its economy by tapping its rich agricultural land. “You should understand the importance of peace if you want to grow as the rest of Africa,” he said.