South Sudan on Thursday said falling oil revenues would leave it struggling to pay soldiers in its vast army, in the latest sign of a financial crisis that could undermine a fragile north-south peace deal.
Reuters says the region has had to slash spending this year to cope with the near $100 fall in the oil price since July and the cuts have already sparked unrest after disabled soldiers last week blocked key trade routes in protests over back-pay.
South Sudan gets almost all of its revenues from oil found in its territory according to the terms of the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
The south has already warned it might not be able to cover the salaries of all government workers in March, if Khartoum failed to send an additional $50 million in oil revenue arrears from last year.
South Sudan’s army told Reuters the former rebel force might not be able to pay salaries on time in the months ahead.
“We are alerting forces that we may have some difficulties with salaries … They need to know ahead so they are not surprised,” acting spokesman Malaak Ayuen Ajok said.
The south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army is officially made up of around 60 000 troops, but officials have said as many as 160 000 people, some absorbed from the south’s many militias, could be on its pay roll.
“It is dangerous to the peace if people are not paid salaries and do not understand why,” Finance Ministry Undersecretary Aggrey Tisa told Reuters.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement created a semi-autonomous southern government, allowed the south to maintain its own army and promised a referendum on southern independence in 2011.
Relations between north and south Sudan are still tense and troops from both sides have clashed on a number of occasions.
Washington-based campaign group Refugees International said on Thursday the U.S. government should step up funding to help the southern government build up social services, create jobs and invest in agriculture.
“South Sudan needs an emergency financial package to address its current crisis and to keep the (north-south peace) agreement from failing,” senior advocate Andrea Lari said.
Two million people died and 4 million fled their homes between 1983 and 2005 as north and south Sudan battled out differences in ideology, ethnicity and religion. Fighting since then between northern and southern troops over the contested oil region of Abyei has caused some analysts to warn the country could be dragged back into civil war.