April 24, 2014 (JUBA) – The sacked general chief of staff of the South Sudanese army said on Thursday he would work to support his replacement, asserting that his removal should not be used to justify the perpetuation of the fourth month conflict that has displaced over one million people.
General James Hoth Mai thanked president Salva Kiir for the trust he had showed in him during his period in office.
“I have done what I could do. People have seen that and they are the ones to judge. I am not a judge of my performance. Our people should judge and say what they know about how I served them,” Mai said.
Paul Malong, a veteran of the civil war that led to South Sudan’s independence and the sitting governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, will replace Mai.
“I will support him if he needs my help,” Mai said of his successor.
General Mai said the president has the right to relieve him of his position, adding that Kiir believes in the unity of the South Sudanese people.
“I believe in peace because peace was what our people fought for” during decades of conflict with the Khartoum government.
However, less than three years since independence a split in the former rebels that constitute South Sudan’s army (SPLA) and ruling party (SPLM) has plunged the country into a conflict that has seen thousands killed, including many who have been targetted on the basis of their ethnicity.
“Our people died [during the 1983-2005 civil war] because they wanted to live in peace in a free and opened country so that all of us contribute for the nation building in any capacity. But when there is war, there is no peace and development,” the general said.
Mai thanked the South Sudanese people for the support they have given him while serving as the commander of the SPLA, stressing that those who appreciate his service and still need him to serve in any capacity should not use his dismissal as a justification to prolong the war which erupted in December 2013.
“I thank our people and urge them to not use my relief as a reason to prolong the war. I always say war cannot be a solution to anything. Dialogue is always the best option to resolve differences. I have also been calling on our people to always remain united for peace to prevail and to live harmony in our country. This remains my message I want to tell our people,” he said in an exclusive interview with Sudan Tribune.
Mai, who fell short of confirming whether he was consulted before he was removed, was one of the most senior officials remaining in the government and military who are from the Nuer ethnic group.
Many Nuer soldiers defected to join former vice president Riek Machar, a fellow Nuer, when he formed his armed opposition to Kiir’s administration following fighting amongst rival sections of the SPLA in Juba in mid-December when Nuer civilians were targetted, according to rights groups.
Machar’s forces have also attacked members of Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group.
Gordon Buay, the spokesperson of a group of rebel fighters who responded to Kiir’s presidential amnesty in 2012 and now fights alongside the government, said the country needs unity not war.
“Our country needs unity and anybody arguing that James Hoth [Mai] should have been replaced by a Nuer or an Equatorian is against the unity of our people. First of all, all the military promotions are done according to military seniority,” he said.
The recently removed general “is not a betrayer like Riek Machar and he is not a man who can betray his country and constitution,” Buay said on Thursday.
South Sudan’s minister of information Michael Makuei Lueth, described the removal of the army commander by the presidential order as “a normal release and retirement that usually takes place in the army”.
Lueth denied the change was related to Mai’s performance or that it had any political motive.