Juba — South Sudanese president Salva Kiir unexpectedly removed Lakes State governor Chol Tong Mayay of his post, putting his deputy Mabor Achol Kuer in charge until further arrangements are made, according to a decree broadcast on state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV) on Monday.
The decree did not cite any reason which necessitated the removal of the elected governor and no official statement from either the office of the president or office of the minister of information, who doubles as official government spokesperson, were able to offer comment.
The president also issued other decrees removing more than 10 top military officers from active military service and onto a reserve list until further notice.
Senior government officials in Lakes and Juba linked Mayay's surprise dismissal to recent sectional clashes in which a number of people lost their lives. Lakes state has been a flashpoint for cattle raids, robberies and inter-clan disputes.
Mayay was controversially elected to the office in 2010 after winning official endorsement for his candidature by the country's governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Critics of the state governor and their supporters in Juba and Rumbek have welcomed the decision, with some describing it as one of the most "wise and decisive" actions ever taken by Kiir.
"People in Rumbek are celebrating this decision. It is one of the [most] wise and decisive actions our president has ever taken", a local lawmaker and critic of the former governor, who did not wish to be named, said on Monday.
"We were going to impeach him if the president did not act, but thanks God that he has listened to voices of reason. We have actually been recalled from recess because of this", the MP told Sudan Tribune from Rumbek, the capital of Lakes state, by phone.
He accused the former governor of failing to contain sectional violence which erupted in Rumbek central county on 18 January, killing 25 people and injuring more than 30.
Rumbek central was among three counties in Lakes state affected by violent clashes between the Amothnhom and Panyon sections of the Dinka ethnic group.
Mayay responded to the violence by ordering the South Sudanese army (SPLA) and South Sudan Police Services (SSPS) to launch operations of forceful disarmament in the Rumbek central, Cueibet and Rumbek east counties and arrest those responsible on both sides of the conflict. It remains unclear when the disarmament process will begin.
Authorities say the tribal clashes were sparked by disagreements over grazing areas between rival cattle herding groups.
Both the Amothnhom and Panyon graze their cattle on a vast fertile territory - known as the toch - sharing the Marial-Bek cattle camp, which is located in Rumbek east county 15 km north-east of Rumbek central county.
The attack on 18 January is thought to be in retaliation for earlier clashes in the days before in an area between Marial-Bek and Ghun cattle camps in which 10 died and 13 were injured. A total of 35 people were killed and a further 43 wounded in the clashes.
During his election campaign, Mayay had presented an ambitious plan, promising to bring quick reforms to improve health care facilities and create employment opportunities for jobless youth.
He found overwhelming support at the ballot, winning 228,080 votes, representing 86.54% of validly counted votes.