New Army Chief for South Sudan


South Sudan president Silva Kiir has replaced army chief Paul Malong with a general from an ethnic minority, the defence minister said, after a slew of resignations by senior generals alleging tribal bias and war crimes.

Kiir named General James Ajongo as the new army chief, said Minister of Defence Kuol Manyang Juuk. He played down the significance of Malong’s removal, calling it “just normal practice of changing somebody and bringing in another person.”

Malong was told a month ago he would be relieved, Juuk told Reuters. He did not know if Malong, a former elected civilian governor, had been given a new appointment.

Juuk said the change would not affect the military’s fight against rebel groups. “The operation will go on,” he said.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been mired in civil war since 2013 when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy, Riek Machar, a Nuer.

The move triggered a conflict that plunged parts of the oil-producing country into famine, paralysed public services and forced three million people – a quarter of the population – to flee their homes. The United Nations said the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing and risks setting the stage for genocide.

In February, the military’s head of logistics, Thomas Cirillo Swaka, resigned, citing rampant human rights abuses by the military and the dominance of the president’s Dinka ethnic group as his reason for leaving. His announcement brought a wave of resignations by generals and civil servants who made similar accusations against the government.

Kiir and Malong are from the Dinka community, but Ajongo is a Luo from Aweil, in the north-west of the country, according to Kiir’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny.

Ateny said Ajongo joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the formal name of the South Sudanese military, in 1983 when it was still a rebel group fighting for independence from neighbouring Sudan.
“He’s a military career person,” Ateny said. He denied any split between Malong and Kiir. “This has nothing to do with political or any rumour-mongering,” he said. “There is no division in the government.”

A spokesman for Machar’s rebels said Malong would remain a powerful force in the civil war because of his role in recruiting Dinka tribal militias.
“There will still be the presence of Mathiang Anyor and other militias in the country,” spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said. Mathiang Anyor is a common term for irregular Dinka militia.
“His work will be continued by his followers and recruits. Mathiang Anyor does not listen to anyone but General Paul Malong. He will still control them,” Gabriel said. “We will still have a war to fight, maybe even more than now.”

Kiir’s government has denied any involvement in recruiting Dinka irregulars.