JUBA (Reuters) - Several South Sudanese army generals have been put under investigation for alleged human rights abuses in the east of the country where the army is fighting a rebellion, President Salva Kiir said on Sunday.
The United States has criticized the army for various abuses during a campaign to end a rebellion by politician David Yau Yau and fighting between rival tribes in eastern Jonglei state.
Western powers fear a heavy-handed army approach will escalate the fighting and undermine stability, draining state resources at a time of a conflict with arch foe Sudan over oil exports vital to both countries' economies.
South Sudan accuses Sudan of supplying David Yau Yau with weapons, which is denied by Khartoum.
Diplomats say the allegations are credible but South Sudan's army is fuelling the dissent itself with rape, killings and torture committed during a state disarmament campaign to end the tribal fighting.
Tribal violence has killed more than 1,600 people in Jonglei since South Sudan's secession from Sudan in 2011, hampering plans to explore for oil with the help of France's Total and U.S. firm Exxon.
Kiir, already trying to consolidate power after firing his entire cabinet last month, said he would not tolerate abuses by commanders in Jonglei, where the United Nations says fighting has cut off more than 100,000 people from humanitarian aid.
"Some of the generals are already under investigation," Kiir told his new cabinet, assembled for the swearing in of his vice president, James Wani Igga. "They will pay for whatever crimes they have committed."
Officials said James Otong, a general in charge of the army operations in Pibor country, was arrested last week for the alleged killing of civilians by soldiers under his command.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Andrew Green; Editing by Alison Williams)