Kenya withdraws first batch of troops from U.N. South Sudan mission

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The first batch of Kenyan troops who had served in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan arrived home on Wednesday, after Nairobi ordered them to withdraw in response to the sacking of the Kenyan commander of the UNMISS force. Kenya said last week it would pull its forces out after a U.N. inquiry accused UNMISS of failing to respond to an attack on a Juba hotel during fighting in July. Kenya's Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki was fired. "Today we have started our withdrawal from South Sudan," Kenyan Major General Benjamin Biwott told reporters at Nairobi's international airport as about 100 soldiers flew in. He said further batches of soldiers from the roughly 1,000-strong Kenyan contingent would arrive in coming days, although he did not give a precise timing for completing the withdrawal from UNMISS, which comprised about 12,000 troops. The general said Kenyan soldiers had taken part in peacekeeping operations in 44 countries over the past four decades and Kenya was continuing in its other missions. "We are committed in our peacekeeping operations as a credible and well-trained force," he said. The Juba hotel attack occurred in July during several days of fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar. The two men have long been political rivals and come from different ethnic groups. A civil conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013, but the two leaders signed a peace deal in 2015 that was meant to halt the fighting, but it failed to stick. Machar has since left the country and sporadic clashes have continued. (Reporting by Ben Makori; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens)