The president of South Sudan has replaced army chief Paul Malong, the defense minister said on Tuesday, after a slew of resignations by senior generals alleging ethnic bias and war crimes.
President Salva Kiir has appointed General James Ajong as the new army chief, said Minister of Defence Kuol Manyang Juuk. He downplayed the significance of Malong’s removal, calling it “just a normal practice of changing somebody and bringing another person.”
Malong was told one month ago that 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 has plunged parts of the oil producing country into famine, paralyzed 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 setting the stage for genocide.
In February, the 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. His announcement brought a wave of other resignations by generals and civil servants who made similar accusations against the government.