President Salva Kiir is appealing to South Sudanese to remain calm, saying there will be no outbreak of violence after he fired army chief General Paul Malong, who left the capital Tuesday night with a number of armed military officers.
Kiir called a rare news conference Friday to speak publicly for the first time since firing Malong this week. The president faulted Malong for leaving Juba before he could officially swear in his successor, General James Ajongo, but insisted that changes in army leadership are normal.
He also said he was mystified as to why Malong would be angered by his replacement.
“I didn’t talk to him this morning. I found that he was resting because yesterday, his blood pressure shot up very high because when I talked to him last, he was not in a good mood. He was in a fighting mood. I tried to calm him down, but he was rather wild,” Kiir told reporters in the capital, Juba.
Kiir tried to tamp down fears that Malong might be planning to mount a rebellion against the government.
“The security situation remains normal and all citizens are urged to continue with their routine duties, because there is really nothing that people should worry about. I also want to encourage you to stop inciting fear through the spread of unfounded rumors,” Kiir said.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Malong was heading to his hometown of Aweil to set up a military base. Aweil residents expressed fear there could be clashes between government forces and those allied with the general. Many fled to rural areas for fear violence would break out.
Malong and his soldiers ended their journey toward Aweil in the Eastern Lakes State capital, Yirol, after local officials persuaded Malong not to proceed.
Government officials sent a plane to fly Malong back to Juba on Thursday, but the general declined the ride, seeking guarantees for his security before returning to the capital.
Eastern Lakes State Governor Bor Wutchot Bor told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that Malong was not being detained and was his guest at his state residence.
Kiir said his government would ensure that Malong and the army officers with him were safe. He said Aweil community leaders were also talking with Malong to discourage him from resorting to violence.
South Sudan is mired in its fourth year of conflict since fighting erupted between pro- and anti-Kiir factions in December 2013. The United Nations says more than 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled the country, with another 1.9 million internally displaced from their homes.