- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 10, 2017

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - South Sudan’s ousted army chief of staff said Wednesday he has nothing to retaliate for, even as his abrupt removal put the military on alert after months of government infighting.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Paul Malong said he would not take up arms against the government of the East African nation, saying “we don’t fight a meaningless war.”

The hardliner Malong was removed Tuesday night. The United States last year led a failed effort for United Nations sanctions on him, saying he had violated the country’s 2015 peace agreement. He also has been accused of recruiting an ethnic militia of roughly 7,500 troops called Mathang Anyoor before South Sudan’s civil war began in late 2013 and is said to still be in command.

Malong told the AP he now wants to live a simple life at home on the farm. He and President Salva Kiir are both ethnic Dinka and he says it is not in the Dinka culture to fight each other.

“I have nothing to retaliate for,” he said, adding that he would not seek any further position in South Sudan’s military or government.

But later Wednesday, a spokesman for Kiir, Ateny Wek Ateny, said Malong had been persuaded to return to the capital, Juba, on Thursday. “He is part of the system,” Ateny said.

Malong could not be reached Wednesday evening.

Malong’s replacement, Gen. James Ajongo Mawut, stressed that the situation was normal, even as internal U.N. documents obtained by the AP suggested a rise in military operations across the country.

“It is unclear whether Malong’s removal will significantly alter the army’s behavior for the better, but it is clear that Malong should be investigated for his failure to prevent, stop and punish abuses committed by forces under his command during his tenure,” Jonathan Pedneault, a South Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the AP. “Those abuses are many.”

Malong had been accused of directing last year’s fighting in Juba that left hundreds dead. In February, a handful of top-level military officials resigned while accusing Kiir and Malong of ethnic bias and corruption.

South Sudan’s civil war has killed tens of thousands and created the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

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