Juba — A spokesman for the South Sudan army, the SPLA, dismissed reports that thousands of soldiers have abandoned their posts in Jonglei state, saying the number was much smaller and "desertion is normal" in modern armies.
"We don't know ... the exact number (who have deserted) but that is not a new thing," Colonel Philip Aguer told South Sudan in Focus.
"You ask the modern army whether they know desertion. It is something which is normal," Aguer said.
Aguer said the soldiers who did leave their posts might have been protesting at not getting paid, but he insisted the soldiers' salaries were on the way.
"Salaries were late but they are sent. The situation is being handled and an investigation is taking place to find out what happened," he said.
Earlier this month, civil servants in Central Equatoria state said they had not received their salaries since February, and in March, scores of South Sudanese soldiers, who were wounded in the fighting between pro- and anti-government forces, blocked a major road in Juba to protest what they said were several months of unpaid wages.
You ask the modern army whether they know desertion. It is something which is normal.
Opposition military spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said anti-government forces have moved into areas that have been deserted by government troops, to prevent a potentially dangerous security vacuum forming in the already volatile areas.
"Once we have a security vacuum, chances of having some criminals causing trouble in those areas are very high and that is why our forces have moved in... so that lawlessness and disorder do not reign," Koang said.
The rebel spokesman said government troops and the Ugandan army have abandoned Gadiang, Poktap and Wernyol and were heading towards the Jonglei state capital, Bor. Aguer, meanwhile, said the SPLA was still in control of Gadiang. It was impossible to verify the situation on the ground with independent sources.