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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

South Sudan rejigs cabinet after corruption grumbles

South Sudan's president has reshuffled his cabinet following allegations of corruption and mismanagement, firing his finance minister and two others, and shifting a senior army commander into government.

Salva Kiir, president of the south and vice president of the country, announced the widely-touted reshuffle late on Sunday. The sacking of Finance Minister Kuol Athian was applauded by southern parliamentarians.

"I think people are agreed that he should be removed because of mismanagement of funds," parliamentarian Jok Dein Deng said.

Another lawmaker Martin Aligo said: "There were no systems in place."

Semi-autonomous south Sudan set up its own government as part of a 2005 north-south peace deal that ended one of Africa's longest civil wars, with many in the cabinet coming from senior positions in the former rebel movement that now governs.

Plagued by resurgent violence between tribes, the south has struggled to pay government wages recently due to low world crude prices that the south depends on for most of its revenue.

The head of parliament's public accounts committee, Jimmy Wongo, said parliament had requested Athian explain the whereabouts of several million Sudanese pounds of grain bought with public funds.

"Unfortunately he has now been removed and we may not have the opportunity to question him," he said.

Although the reshuffle was expected, some were surprised at the move to appoint the army's chief of staff, Oyai Deng Ajak, as regional cooperation minister -- the south's equivalent of a foreign minister.

"It was a shock to him," an army source told Reuters, indicating Kiir moved him to appear to be reforming the military. "This is because of mismanagement and malpractice in all areas of the army."

Another senior army figure was relieved of his position, while a third was moved to a non-military role.

The army has not been fully reorganised after the inclusion of tens of thousands of militiamen, and soldiers complain they are paid only intermittently.

Six other ministers were moved to new posts as part of the reshuffle and Kiir also changed many senior members of the south's state governments.

A referendum is due to be held in 2011 offering the south the chance to secede.

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