South Sudan’s Minister of Information said the removal of the country’s army chief by President Salva Kiir is a normal release and retirement that usually takes place in the army.
But, General James Hoth Mai’s dismissal comes days after rebel forces loyal to former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar seized control of Bentiu, the capital of the oil-producing Unity State, where the United Nations said hundreds of civilians have been massacred.
Kiir named General Paul Malong as Mai’s replacement. He also sacked his intelligence chief, Major General Mach Paul Kuol, replacing him with General Marial Nour Jok.
Information Minister Michael Makuei denied the changes signal the coming of a new government offensive to retake Bentiu.
“This is a normal routine in the army. When you reach that senior level, then you are bound to go at any time because there needs to be room for the others. So, this removal has nothing to do with the operation; it has nothing to do with whatever others think it is,” he said.
Makuei said the government will continue to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement signed with the rebels in Ethiopia in January.
“The government has made clear that it is bound and will respect the cessation of hostilities agreement. However, the government gave a stern warning to the rebels that, in case they don’t respect and abide by the cessation of hostilities, then the government has the constitutional requirement to defend and protect the people of South Sudan,” he said.
The rebel takeover of Bentiu is a complete violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement, Makuei said, adding that the government intends to retake the town.