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South Sudan to draft formal defence policy

JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - Semi-autonomous south Sudan has taken its first steps toward drafting a formal defence policy as part of a process to turn the rebel-dominated southern army into a conventional force, officials said.

Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) spokesman Kuol Diem Kuol said top generals and politicians, members of the church and civil society, and British and U.S. security consultants had been invited to put together the beginnings of the policy.

“This is the first consultative workshop on the Defence White Paper, the defence policy for southern Sudan,” Kuol said. “Even the size of the SPLA will be determined by this document.”

The first meeting took place on Monday, and the process was expected to take months to complete.

A 2005 peace deal between the northern government and southern rebels ended over two decades of north-south civil war. That deal also gave south Sudan semi-autonomous status and made the SPLA, now 170,000 strong, the official southern army.

Kuol said a lack of clear defence policy was a problem for the former rebel army and meant that the army lacked a roadmap for development into a regular force.

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“In the absence of a policy, things are spontaneous. It is difficult to know whether we are advancing or not,” he said. “This policy will help us in the transformation from a guerrilla army to a conventional one.”

The SPLA will be made smaller, which will allow for its speedier development and the purchase of weapons, he said. He said currently all money is going toward salaries and rations.

The army has received a lion’s share of the south’s budget -- around 40 per cent -- in the last two years.

Analysts have said the inclusion of some 31,000 former militia soldiers into the SPLA this year was necessary for security in the south but could be a severe financial drain on the army. But size was not the only factor in need of change.

“We used to be mobile. Now in the conventional systems we need to be stationary, in barracks,” Kuol said.

He also said more responsibility for internal security would be handed to the police and other authorities as these develop in the south.