South Sudan's President Salva Kiir has reached out to former army chief Gen Paul Malong, through Dinka elders, seeking a meeting to assure him of his safety.
Gen Malong was under house arrest from May till last week when the president lifted the restrictions. However, he has been prevented from going to his home district of Aweil in the former Bahr-el-Ghazal State. He is, however, free to travel to either Kenya or Uganda to seek medical treatment.
Sources in Juba say that the government is concerned that Gen Malong could use the disaffection that has been building in Aweil over his detention to start another rebellion.
President Kiir is keen to ensure that there is no split among the Dinka, who are still in a state of war with the Nuer, the second largest tribe, to which his nemesis Riek Machar belongs.
On November 12, the government withdrew the armoured personnel carriers and security forces initially deployed around the residence of Gen Malong, after the former head of the army agreed to surrender 18 of his guards and all heavy machine guns to the army. He surrendered machine guns, several rocket-propelled grenade launchers and several light machine guns.
Army spokesperson Lul Ruai Koang said the decision to withdraw the security forces from the ex-military chief’s home was made after a security review reportedly showed the latter posed no threats to the government in particular and residents in general.
The Dinka elders, in a statement signed by Francis Mading Deng, confirmed that President Kiir had released Gen Malong to go to a country of his choice and return at will.
Since his appointment as army chief in 2014, Gen Malong had grown to enjoy more influence in the army than even President Kiir.
While a large number of soldiers in the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) left with Dr Machar when the war broke out in 2013, Gen Malong went on a recruitment drive, bringing in ethnic militia, the Mathiang Anyor, to fight on the side of the government.
Col David Lam, the rebel deputy military spokesperson, told The EastAfrican that Gen Malong recruited and trained Mathiang Anyor and made them defend the country according to his terms. That means they are only loyal to him and quite a number left the army after Gen Malong was sacked in May.
“Those in Aweil feel betrayed after having steadfastly defended the presidency during the first months of the war and ensuring that Dr Machar did not overrun Juba,” he said.