South Sudan: President Kiir Sacks Foreign Affairs Minister

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South Sudan President Salva Kiir has sacked the country’s foreign affairs minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, following his recent comments about people from Abyei.

The former minister reportedly approved an official response to the United Nations, which appears to label people from the Abyei region as non-South Sudanese. The official status of Abyei is yet to  be resolved by the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, while the national and ethnic identity of people in the oil-rich region is a sensitive topic.

 

Minister sacked for comments

The comments in question were contained in an official response to a United Nations Human Rights report on the current situation in South Sudan. The country has been called out on various human rights violations, but the comments came in response to the sacking of Luka Biong Deng from the University of Juba last year.

Deng was removed from his position after he hosted a forum at the university to discuss the much-scrutinised plans to create 28 states in South Sudan. The UN questioned his dismissal and the official response, approved by former minister Benjamin, claimed he is a Sudanese citizen.

“In [the] case of Dr. Luka Biong Deng, the University of Juba is an independent academic institution which employs national and non-nationals, like Dr. Luka Biong Deng who is a citizen of the Republic of Sudan,” part of the statement reads, according to Sudan Tribune.

 

Denial, calls to resign, sacking

The South Sudanese government quickly distanced itself from the comments, but reports were widely published that it had abandoned the people of Abyei. Benjamin attempted to clarify his comments, but calls for his resignation were already increasing in volume.

“I would like to make a clarification because in the media it was quoted that the ministry of foreign affairs has said clearly that the people of Abyei are not South Sudanese,” he said to the media.

“I would like to make it clear that the issue of Abyei is clearly stated that they have a joint sovereignty of the Republic of South Sudan and of the Republic of Sudan and any decision that is to be taken by the two governments, will rely on the people of Abyei decision through a referendum to decide which country they should belong to,” he added.

Benjamin was saved the trouble of penning his resignation letter, however, when President Salva Kiir announced his dismissal on state channel SSTV on Wednesday. The president didn’t give any official reason for the decision.

 

Features image:

By Al Jazeera EnglishSalva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17499174