South Sudan’s former army Chief of General Staff, Gen. Paul Awan Malong, says he will not stab his country in the back, downplaying rumours and fears that he may rebel if he is not given any other key position in government.

Gen. Malong says his desire to go home should not be interpreted to mean something negative, but rather should be understood in the context of someone going home to his birthplace for family matters. “I am okay. There is no problem with me,” Malong said Sunday when contacted about whether he was still considering going home to Aweil, and whether or not the request has been approved by President Salva Kiir who ousted him from office through a decree in May 2017.

Upon his removal last month, Malong departed Juba with a group of bodyguards, heading for his political stronghold of Northern Bahr al Ghazal, but was halted in Lakes state and returned to the capital after prolonged negotiations.

“My going home should not be a problem. I cannot stab this country in the back. Others can do, not me. I am requesting to be allowed to go home like any other person, who returns to their homes when they are relieved from national duties. Who does not have home and who does not go after they are relieved from their positions?” asked Malong. “They go home, is it not? So what is it so strange with my desire to go home and stay with my family and my community?” he asked.

Leaders in Malong’s native Aweil community issued a statement on May 22nd saying the general deserves a special pat on the back or a medal of honour for gracefully handling the situation following his unceremonious discharge. Calling for reconciliation between President Kiir and Malong, the community said the general’s ouster should not affect his decades-long relationship with the president.

“We believe that the near-crisis involving his sacking is a considered matter of your administration and should not be allowed to be exploited by war merchants, or ethno-regional players who, by any statistical measure, are rooting against the stability of the country,” the community’s statement reads in part.

No reason was given by Kiir for Malong’s removal. The president replaced him with Gen James Ajonga Mawut, who was the deputy chief of general staff for administration and finance.

The president and Malong held a meeting at the presidential palace after the latter had returned from Yirol, in Lakes state, where a standoff prevented Malong from traveling onward to Aweil. The two leaders met twice, resulting in a joint announcement that their differences have come to an end.

Forces against reconciliation of Kiir & Malong continue to create a rift.

The details of what they discussed were not disclosed to the general public. As much as the two old comrades may be willing to bury the hatchet, forces against their reconciliation continue to create a rift, distancing the powerful general from the president. Sources close to the presidency intimated that subsequent meetings scheduled between the two have been frustrated by government officials.

Gen Malong’s woes and fallout with the president are associated with infighting within the security organs, involving a long-running feud against Gen Malong led by officers in the National Security Service headed by Akol Koor Kuc, the internal security chief. On the other side, Malong’s supporters have portrayed him as the next potential president in the event that President Kiir steps down, resulting in tension with other politicians and military officers with undeclared presidential ambitions.

Some high-level sources say that First Vice President Taban Deng Gai played a significant role in the removal of Malong. The army chief, according to several presidential aides and military intelligence officers with the direct knowledge of events leading to the decision of the president to remove the general from his position, was a source of frustration to Taban. The two had reportedly differed over support for Taban’s militia, which the government refers to as SPLM-IO, but which is not associated with the rebel group of the same name.

Outside the government, many in the international community saw Malong as an obstacle to the deployment of a regional protection force as approved by the United Nations Security Council and approved in principle by the government. He was also blamed for blocking humanitarian access to famine-hit areas. Additionally, he was named by the UN Panel of Experts as being at least partly responsible for violence in July 2016 that re-sparked the civil war, sabotaging a 2015 peace accord.

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