South Sudan’s sacked army chief Paul Malong has left the capital for his home state, the defence minister said, raising concerns over his next move as civil war drags on.
Malong’s removal followed resignations by senior generals in recent months alleging tribal bias and war crimes. Some departed officers subsequently said they might join the revolt against President Salva Kiir.
Malong left Juba in a convoy for Aweil state in the country’s north-west 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 it was unknown when that would happen.
Malong, 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, 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 pitched parts of the oil-producing country into famine, paralysed public services and forced three million people to flee their homes. The United Nations 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 resignations by generals and civil servants who made similar accusations against government.
Officials in Juba 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 SPLA was still a rebel group fighting for independence from Sudan.