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SPLA top general directs the army not to interfere in politics

September 15, 2013 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army’s chief of general staff, Gen. James Hoth Mai, has directed the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) not to interfere in the politics of the country.

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SPLA chief of staff General James Hoth Mai (Photo Larco Lomayat)

Gen. Mai, while graduating batch six of the Artillery Unit of the army based in Western Equatoria state on Saturday, also reminded the troops on the role of the army, which he said, was to protect the people and the sovereignty of the new state.

He encouraged members of the forces to instead pursue education and agriculture during this era of peace and reject any political temptations.

The first public statement by the SPLA chief after the 23 July dissolution of the country’s cabinet confirmed the widely circulated speculations that he remains opposed to any attempts to involve the security forces in the ongoing political rivalry in the country.

There have been speculations that the top general had disagreed with President Salva Kiir on a number of issues that seemed to drag the army into politics, including a sought guarantee to use the army to support the head of state in case he takes serious decisions against his political rivals in government and the ruling party.

Kiir recently threatened the legislative organ, the parliament, to support his actions and choices, including the appointment of the new vice-president, James Wani Igga to replace his long time deputy, Riek Machar, or risk dissolution.

He also suspended and confined to Juba the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party’s secretary general, Pagan Amum, for criticising his actions while the Supreme Court has shied away from proceedings on the petition presented to the judicial body by Amum against Kiir’s unilateral action.

Sources told Sudan Tribune that the president, who is also the commander-in-chief of the army, had also disagreed with Gen. Mai on the deployment of a seemingly private force at Luri Bridge, 10km west of Juba, without Mai’s knowledge.

They say Kiir may, any time, decide to replace Mai, adding that the new minister of defence and veterans affairs, Kuol Manyang Juuk, might have already blessed the plan.

However, minister Juuk responded in a press statement published on The Citizen daily newspaper last week, in which he refuted the allegations involving him, calling it a lie.

He further explained that he had not yet reported to the president on Gen. Mai’s performance since he left his position as the governor of Jonglei state and became a member of the national cabinet, a month ago.

“Such false report is a work of malicious people who wants to create friction and unnecessary conflict among the leadership of South Sudan, specifically within the Ministry of Defence. I am just one month in the office which is not enough for me to evaluate his performance and warrant me to give report about him to the President who is the Commander-in-Chief of SPLA is,” partly reads minister Juuk’s statement.

However, in his statements to the army, which were broadcast on the state-run South Sudan TV (SSTV) on Saturday, Gen. Mai reiterated his position that urged the army to stay away from politics.

South Sudan’s political atmosphere remains tense ahead of the ruling party’s plan to convene its overdue meetings to pass its basic documents and evaluate the party’s challenges and its leadership.

A number of the party’s leading members including its former vice president have openly declared their intentions to replace the current chairman, Kiir, with a new personality who shall become the torch bearer for the 2015 presidential election.

Observers say Kiir seems reluctant to call for the party elections given the internal opposition against his bid to go for another term in office.

It is, however, unknown how long the party leader will continue to shy away from calling for the long-awaited meetings, which officials say, is the only platform to resolve many of the serious challenges the party and its leadership have been experiencing.

(ST)