South Sudan President Salva Kiir sacks army chief

General James Hoth Mai No official reason was given for the removal of Gen James Hoth Mai

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has sacked the head of the army following recent rebel advances.

The decree announcing the immediate removal of Gen James Hoth Mai did not give any reason.

The country has been in turmoil since December. Last week rebels seized the oil hub of Bentiu.

Meanwhile the UN has accused the government of providing "erroneous information" regarding a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the town.

Analysis

The sacked army chief of staff, James Hoth Mai, had been under intense pressure for some time.

As an ethnic Nuer, he wasn't fully trusted by many of President Salva Kiir's supporters, while some of his fellow Nuer accused him of betrayal.

Gen Hoth may even feel it is a relief to be removed from such an environment. However the symbolism of the sacking is strong.

In an increasingly ethnicised conflict, President Kiir has removed an extremely important official who shares the rebel leader Riek Machar's ethnicity - and replaced him with a Dinka from his own Greater Bahr el Ghazal region.

When I interviewed him a couple of years ago, Paul Malong, the new chief of staff, readily accepted the description of a "natural fighter".

He is also accused by his opponents of directing an ethnic militia that carried out killings in Juba at the beginning of this conflict.

At a time when the loyalist troops have suffered several defeats on the battlefield, President Kiir is sending an uncompromising signal to his enemies.

South Sudan Minister of Information Michael Lueth was wrong to tell reporters that residents seeking protection had been barred from entering a UN base, the UN mission said in a statement.

After rebel forces captured Bentiu on 15 and 16 April, they targeted hundreds of people who had taken refuge inside a mosque, a church and a hospital, and killed them because of their ethnicity, the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) said.

"At no point did the mission ever turn away any civilians who came to its camp to seek protection and instead opened its gates to all unarmed civilians," it added.

Setbacks

Correspondents say last week's killings are among the most shocking since the conflict began.

The rebels say the retreating government forces were responsible.

Gen Hoth, is from the same Nuer ethnic group as rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar.

His replacement, Gen Paul Malong, is an ethnic Dinka, like President Kiir.

Disturbing footage has emerged showing the scale of the massacre

South Sudan analyst James Copnall says by sacking Gen President Kiir is sending an uncompromising signal to his enemies.

A January ceasefire deal has failed to halt fighting that began in December after Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar of plotting to stage a coup.

More than a million people have been forced from their homes since the violence started.

'Cycle of violence'

Peace talks, which were due to resume on Wednesday in neighbouring Ethiopia, have been delayed until 27 April.

Herve Ladsous, the UN's head of peacekeeping, accused both sides of failing to stop the "cycle of violence" on Wednesday.

Speaking at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, he said: "Neither party is ready to in any way cease the hostilities. They do not give indication that they sincerely want to participate in the peace talks."

South Sudanese fleeing an attack on the South Sudanese town of Renk, 19 April 2014 More than a million people have since been forced from their homes since the conflict began
Member of the "white army" which make up some of the rebel forces loyal to Riek Machar in South Sudan - Upper Nile State, 14 April 2014 There has been recent fighting in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states
Soldiers among burned-out items in Bentui The town of Bentiu has changed hands several times during the fighting

Bentiu, capital of the oil-rich Unity State, has changed hands several times during the conflict.

Control of the oilfields is crucial because South Sudan gets about 90% of its revenue from oil.

The UN expressed outrage at an attack last week on one of its camps in Bor in Jonglei State, saying it could "constitute a war crime".

That attack by armed youths left at least 58 dead, including children.

Both Mr Kiir and Mr Machar have prominent supporters from various communities, but there have been numerous reports of rebels killing Dinkas and the army targeting Nuers.

The UN has about 8,500 peacekeepers in South Sudan, which became the world newest state after seceding from Sudan in 2011.

Map of South Sudan states affected by conflict Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing the location of oil fields in South Sudan Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Map showing the geography of South Sudan The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing access to water in South Sudan After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Map showing food insecurity rates in South Sudan Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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