JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan’s sacked former army chief Paul Malong has left the capital Juba for his home state, its defence minister said, raising concerns over his next move as a civil war drags on.
Malong’s removal followed a slew of resignations by senior generals in recent months alleging tribal bias and war crimes. Some of the departed officers subsequently said they might join the revolt against President Salva Kiir.
Malong left Juba in a convoy of several vehicles for Aweil state in the country’s northwest shortly after his dismissal was announced on Tuesday, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said.
“We do not know exactly what the reasons may be,” he told Reuters, adding Malong may have departed out of “anger”. Kuol said he had since spoken with Malong and convinced him to return to Juba, but that it was unknown when that would happen.
Malong, who was replaced as army chief by General James Ajongo, could not be immediately reached for comment. Ajongo is a member of an ethnic minority, the Luo, also from Aweil.
South Sudan, which obtained independence from Sudan in 2011 and is the world’s youngest nation, has been mired in civil war since 2013 when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy, Riek Machar, from the rival Nuer community.
The move triggered a conflict that has pitched parts of the oil-producing country into famine, paralysed public services and forced 3 million people - a quarter of the population - to flee their homes. The United Nations has said the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing and risks escalating into genocide.
In February, the military’s logistics chief Thomas Cirillo Swaka resigned, citing rampant human rights abuses by Kiir’s armed forces and the dominance of the president’s Dinka group.
His announcement triggered a spate of further resignations by generals and civil servants who made similar accusations against the government.
Officials in Juba have played down the significance of Malong’s removal, calling it “normal practice”.
Ajongo joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the formal name of the South Sudanese military, in 1983, when the SPLA was still a rebel group fighting for independence from Sudan.
Editing by Aaron Maasho and Mark Heinrich