May 15, 2012 (JUBA) - The Chief of General Staff of South Sudan’s military, General James Hoth Mai, on Tuesday said that within a "few months" the government will provide anti-aircraft missiles to country’s army, apparently to counter air raids by the Sudan Armed Forces.
- SPLA Chief of General Staff James Hoth Mai (Photo Lomayat)
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) will soon "not have an issue with air defence," Mai said Tuesday at a meeting of high-ranking military officers, during a briefing over the government’s decision to withdraw troops from Panthou/Heglig.
Juba accuses the Sudan Armed Forces of dropping over 80 bombs on its territory since in became independent in July 2011 and has no anti-aircraft batteries or warplanes to compensate the imbalance of military power.
During the recent battles in Heglig, the Sudanese air force carried out regular air attacks on the positions of the South Sudanese army on the border areas but also deep inside the South Sudan territory.
Hoth explained that decision of the government to withdraw troops from Panthou/Heglig and it’s police forces from the oil contested border region of Abyei to comply with the pressure from the international community calling for unconditional withdrawal from the area in order to give peace a chance than military options.
"It is now the responsibility of the United Nations and the international community to protect the people of Abyei and if they fail to do so, we will not accept our people be killed in the day light. We will be obliged to reconsider our position," said General Mai.
"I have trust and confidence that SPLA is capable to remove Sudanese armed forces from Abyei if the African Union and United Nations fail."
He dismissed news reports quoting senior Sudanese officials, including the defence minister, claiming to have militarily pushed out the country’s army from the area as a "deception" to Sudanese people allegedly to recover from “humiliation” and “military parity.”
"They world knows what happened. When our forces entered Panthou, it took Sudanese armed forces less than an hour to fly. Actually there was no fighting in Panthou as you know. Our forces clashed with them in the morning of 10 April at Lalop and Teshsuin, resulting into defeat and subsequently started running away like flies that those who remained in the town could not wait for them," he explained.
The senior military officer explained that the government in Khartoum was finding it difficult to convince Sudanese people. "They lost the trust and the same feeling was prevailing in the army. They were confused with what to do because attempts to return to Panthou were not succeeding until our cabinet announced withdrawal,” he said.
"They were seriously divided and fractured into groups. There were those who were opposed to war and advocates peaceful dialogues and settlement of all pending issues between the two countries and there were groups who fall in the company of defence minister. They advocate war but I do not think they will succeed," he said, explaining further the government was exerting all efforts to provide the army with all possible operational equipment.
This comes amid public criticism that the SPLA has not been properly armed since the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of North-South civil war, to counter external aggression despite the army receiving 40% of the country’s budget.
He expressed the view that retooling the armed forces is prudent and in line with government’s policy of safeguarding the nation’s territorial and economic integrity and said “this was in line with government’s strategic decision of re-equipping and revamping the SPLA to meet the challenges of the 21st Century."
"The public concern is genuine but our people should exercise patience. Probably in the next few months, they will see changes," he said, explaining that the army has received some armoured personnel carriers and trucks and government is in the process of securing more APC’s and armored personnel carriers and tanks.