A top South Sudanese general has resigned, accusing President Salva Kiir of turning the national army into a tribal force for his own Dinka ethnic group.

Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo said the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) now works under the influence of the pro-Dinka Jieng Council of Elders rather than serving the interest of the nation.

In his six-page resignation letter, delivered to Kiir on Saturday from Addis Ababa, Cirillo accuses Kiir of all but ignoring the 2015 peace agreement between the government and opposition forces led by former South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar.

He said Kiir and the SPLA have pursued the Jieng Council of Elders’ agenda of ethnic cleansing and the forceful displacement of people from their ancestral lands.

The general also said the violence that erupted in December 2013, which triggered South Sudan’s ongoing conflict, was planned and orchestrated by the government. He called the conflict a “tribally engineered war” that has killed thousands of innocent people.

Speaking Monday with VOA’s South Sudan in Focus, presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny denied the general’s accusations, while noting that Cirillo was a longtime commander of the SPLA.

“And he was there for a number of years, from 1991 until some few weeks ago; he was the commander of those armies,” Ateny said. “This is uncalled for because he was part of the decision making within the SPLA and therefore he also bears the consequences of what the SPLA as an army has actually done.”

According to the United Nations, more than three million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes since 2013, with 1.4 million now living as refugees in other countries.

The lieutenant general’s resignation comes amid continued deadly violence between government troops and unidentified militias, as well as massive displacement of civilians, mainly in the greater Equatoria and Upper Nile regions.

Aid agencies say fighting in recent weeks between government forces and rebel forces loyal to Machar have prompted thousands of civilians to flee to Uganda.

Cirillo is the second SPLA general to resign in protest of Kiir’s actions. 

Lieutenant General Bapinyi Monytuil resigned in October 2016, accusing Kiir of hindering the implementation of the peace agreement.

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