South Sudan President Salva Kiir fired his foreign affairs minister Wednesday who served a role throughout the country's 27-month civil war.
In a decree read out on national television, Kiir gave no explanation for firing Barnaba Marial Benjamin and also did not name a replacement. However the move followed calls for Marial's resignation after comments purportedly made by him that inferred the oil-rich region of Abyei was not part of South Sudan.
“I have been relieved of my duty as the minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation for the Republic of South Sudan this evening by a presidential decree by my president, Salva Kiir Mayardit. I greatly appreciate the confidence that he has placed in me for the last three years as minister of foreign affairs,” Marial said.
He denied he was fired because he had said the oil-rich region of Abyei was not a part of South Sudan.
Abyei is a disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan whose Ngok Dinka population has voted to join South Sudan. A recent foreign ministry statement signed by Marial and sent to the United Nations said a prominent Abyei-born academic, Luka Biong, is Sudanese.
Marial said he supports the Abyei Protocol which says the status of the region should be decided by its Ngok Dinka and Misseriya tribes through a referendum.
“Our position, as I articulated as a foreign minister is that Abyei has joint sovereignty for the Republic of South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan, and that’s why the Abyei Protocol said there should be the right of self-determination by the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms to choose whether they go back to South Sudan where they originally were or remain part of Sudan,” Marial said.
Abyei held an unofficial referendum in 2013 and the region’s Ngok Dinka ethnic group said it wanted an alliance with South Sudan. But the results were never recognized by the governments of both South Sudan and Sudan.
Abyei’s other major ethnic group, the nomadic Misseriya tribe, whose leaders are allied with Sudan, did not participate in the vote and said they would not recognize the referendum results.