Gen Malong to lead South Sudan rebels, but how far can he go?

Saturday April 14 2018

South Sudan's former army chief Paul Malong. REUTERS

South Sudan's former army chief Paul Malong addresses the media after returning to the South Sudan's capital of Juba, May 13, 2017. He has formed a new rebel movement. PHOTO | REUTERS 

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Gen Paul Malong, the former South Sudan chief of general staff who recently launched a rebel movement, is a man between a rock and a hard place.

While he is viewed with suspicion by other rebel groups for having been the architect of the civil war that broke out in 2013, he is now a wanted man by the very government he was protecting. 

Gen Malong has been accused by the United Nations, the African Union and human-rights organisations of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The United States has also frozen his bank accounts, mainly in Kenya and Uganda.

A former close ally of President Salva Kiir, who was sacked in May 2017, Gen Malong launched his South Sudan-United Front (SS-UF) just days after the government raided three of his homes in Juba. Soldiers are now occupying his homes in Jebel, Kololo and Thongpiny neighbourhoods after evicting his family.  

Biel Boutros Biel, a South Sudan human-rights lawyer based in Uganda told The EastAfrican that Gen Malong’s move can only succeed in dividing the Dinka that form the bedrock of President Salva Kiir’s presidency, but his previous human rights records since 2013 will not earn him any new support in regions outside his Bahr-el-Ghazal home.

“He was the architect of the 2013 civil war and the fresh fighting in Juba in July 2016 that finally drove Dr Riek Machar away and killed the 2015 peace agreement,” said Mr Biel.

Gen Malong has been living in self-imposed exile in Kenya since his release from house arrest in November 2017, but he was in March traced to Khartoum where he met intelligence officers. He launched SS-UF on April 9 with the objective of joining the opposition Alliance and ousting President Kiir.

Fighting Machar

The government is now accusing Gen Malong of violence and massive corruption.

Presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny, has alleged that the government had paid him $5 million to fight Dr Machar in 2016 as he was fleeing on foot to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“The Central Bank of South Sudan was opened at night and $5 million was released for military operations against Riek Machar. Malong took the money but Riek Machar was not killed,” said Mr Ateny at a press conference in Juba.

But Sunday de John, Gen Malong’s spokesperson said the $5 million issue is propaganda and a ploy to scuttle the opposition alliance after President Kiir realised that the opposition against his rule is growing.

“Where on earth would a chief of general staff of the armed forces get such unlimited powers of taking charge of banks? President Kiir and his group cannot ascertain this but they are putting it across to cause confusion so as to give themselves time to advance the impunity,” said Mr de John.

He said that Gen Malong cannot be blamed for the breakdown of law and order because is that is the case, the violence could have ended after his removal from the army, detention for several months and the eventual exile.

The EastAfrican saw a letter Gen Malong wrote on July 25 2016, to Gen Mangar Buong Alunge, the head of operations at Bilpam SPLA headquarters and copied to the director of military intelligence, indicating that the order to pursue Dr Machar in the forest had come from President Kiir.

With Gen Malong officially joining the rebellion against President Kiir, there fears of defections and new fighting in his Bahr-el-Ghazal region, which has been peaceful since the civil war began in December 2013.

It is also likely to divide the Jieng Council of Elders — the influential Dinka cultural group — where he also enjoys some support and which has been the silent power behind President Kiir’s leadership.