Former S. Sudan army chief downplays rift with president

September 24, 2017 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s former army chief, Paul Malong Awan says he does not have problems with President Salva Kiir, attributing his sacking and current detention to the pressure being exerted on the latter.

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S Sudan’s President Salva Kiir is received by former Chief of General Staff of the SPLA Paul Malong Awan at the airport in Juba March 6, 2015 (Reuters)

“There is no personal problem between me and president Salva. What happened [was] he [Kiir] was under pressure and so he implemented what others wanted”, he told Sudan Tribune on Sunday.

The former army chief, who was axed in May, claimed president Kiir was being pushed to treat him in a manner likely to cause reactions.

“They know our relations and so they are not happy and they have been trying all along to cause this situation. I told the president several times about the activities of these people and he told me he was aware. So there was a pressure which we all know”, said Awan.

Awan, a former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, vowed never to fight the very government he worked to maintain. He specifically cited the vital role he played in 2004 when late John Garang de Mabior, the founding leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) fell out with Kiir, who was then his immediate deputy.

The president replaced Awan with the deputy chief of general staff for administration and finance, Lietenant General James Ajongo Mawut.

By the time of his removal, Awan was overseeing an army that was in the spotlight, amid accusations of gross human rights violations, rape, atrocities and war crimes on civilians in conflict-affected areas.

The former army chief, who had recruited a notorious militia from his home region, allegedly failed to crack down on abuses by soldiers.

Early this year, the president criticised soldiers accused of raping women and girls, stressing that it was not a policy of the government.

“I want the general chief of staff General Paul Malong and the defence minister to report to me from now on if anything like this [rape] happens. In such a case, we will shoot the person who did it,” Kiir said during a visit to Yei River state in February.

Barely a month ago, Awan was among the three South Sudanese officials sanctioned by the United States administration for undermining peace, security and stability in the war-torn country.

The sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker said, implied freezing assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions, banning them from travelling to the U.S and preventing Americans from doing business with them.

The nearly four-year conflict in South Sudan had killed tens of thousands of people and driven more than 2 million children out of the country, the United Nations says.