May 10, 2017 / 2:35 PM / 3 months ago

South Sudan's sacked army chief quits Juba, dismisses fears amid civil war

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan's sacked former army chief Paul Malong sought on Wednesday to allay concerns he might join a revolt after leaving the capital Juba soon after his dismissal, saying he had no "problems" with the government.

Malong's removal followed several resignations by senior generals in recent months alleging tribal bias and war crimes as South Sudan's civil war dragged on. Some said they might join the revolt against President Salva Kiir.

Malong left Juba in a convoy of several vehicles for his native Aweil state in the country's northwest after Kiir sacked him on Tuesday, giving rise to speculation he might also revolt.

"Whatever has been said, there is no reality, because if I wanted to have a problem that problem should be in Juba," he told Radio Miraya FM, a United Nations radio station.

He did not respond to the reporter's question on whether he would return to Juba.

Earlier on Wednesday, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk told Reuters he had 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 Tom Heneghan

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