South Sudan’s ousted army chief Paul Malong returned to the capital Juba on Saturday, saying he had no intention of staging a revolt against President Salva Kiir’s government.
This is coming as seven South Sudanese opposition groups, including that of rebel leader Riek Machar, said on Saturday they had agreed to work closely in their bid to oust President Salva Kiir’s government, as the civil war drags on in the oil-producing nation.
Kiir dismissed General Malong – the man who has led his campaign against rebels – on Tuesday without spelling out his reasons. Malong then left Juba with a convoy of vehicles for his home state of Aweil in the northwest, raising speculation over his next move.
On Friday, Kiir said Malong was in a “fighting mood” and had not obeyed orders to return, raising the prospect of further turmoil more than three years into an ethnically-charged civil war.
“I was asked to come back and I have come back to listen why I am needed here,” Malong told reporters upon his arrival in Juba.
“If I wanted to rebel, I would have rebelled here (in Juba). I had guns here and these solders do not belong to anybody. If I was about to fight, I would have fought here,” he said, adding that he will seek permission to return to his home state.
President Kiir had said Malong was in a fighting mood and had refused to return to the capital.
“I was talking to him, I said, Malong, you did a mistake: the first thing that you should have done was to thank me personally for the period I have given you to serve the people of South Sudan. Secondly you are supposed to call James Ajongo and also congratulate him for his new assignment,” Kiir said.
Kiir said that when he last spoke to Malong he was “in a fighting mood”.
“I tried to calm him down but he was rather wild,” said Kiir adding that the situation would be contained.
Several other senior officers have left the army in recent months, accusing the military of rights abuses and ethnic bias. One, Thomas Cirillo Swaka, has announced the formation of his own rebel force and threatened to topple Kiir.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in 2013 when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy, Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group. Malong is also a Dinka.
The conflict has pitched parts of the oil-producing country into famine, paralyzed public services and forced a quarter of the population – 3 million people – to flee their homes.
On Tuesday, Kiir promoted Malong’s former deputy General James Ajongo as army chief.
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.
Seven South Sudanese opposition groups, including that of rebel leader Riek Machar, said on Saturday they had agreed to work closely in their bid to oust President Salva Kiir’s government, as the civil war drags on in the oil-producing nation.
Signatories of the agreement included former government ministers Kosti Manibe and Lam Akol, as well as Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the military’s former head of logistics, who resigned in February citing rampant human rights abuses by the military and the dominance of President Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group.
“In working together, our efforts – political, diplomatic, and military efforts – can be more effective than when we operate as different units,” said Nathaniel Oyet, a senior official in Machar’s SPLA-IO group.