South Sudan’s powerful former army chief of staff Paul Malong on Monday announced the formation of a rebel movement to “arrest the carnage” in the country, saying President Salva Kiir could not be trusted to lead the nation to peace.
A hardline ethnic Dinka nationalist who fled into exile after Kiir sacked him last year, Malong slammed the ongoing fighting and misery in the world’s youngest nation, accusing Kiir of “looting” South Sudan into bankruptcy and turning it into a failed state.
Malong said in a statement that his new movement, the South Sudan United Front, is “a just and urgent call … a struggle to first arrest the carnage that has befell our country and secondly to steer us towards democracy and development.”
He described the movement as an “army” and himself as its “commander-in-chief”, while also calling for democracy, development and peace.
Malong said his movement would join the South Sudan Opposition Alliance – a coalition of armed groups formed in December after a short-lived ceasefire deal was struck with government.
“Malong has confirmed what we have been saying from the day he left Juba,” the capital, said presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny. “We have said time and again Malong is a rebel. This is what he has been working for.”
An ethnic Dinka, like Kiir, Malong retains significant support in his community.
Malong said the SS-UF plans to take part in ongoing talks in Addis Ababa later this month to revive the collapsed peace agreement.
A key cog in civil war
Malong was sanctioned by the United States in 2017 and the European Union earlier this year for his part in orchestrating the more than four year civil war which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, and for commanding troops that committed human rights violations, including the targeting and killing of civilians.
South Sudan’s people fought for decades for self-determination, but after independence in 2011, an ethnic power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to all out civil war in 2013.
Malong was appointed Chief of General Staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in January 2014, and tasked with crushing former vice president Riek Machar’s rebel group when conflict broke out after Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.
The U.S. Treasury Department says that “Malong’s alleged order for his troops to disarm and later attack Nuer soldiers was one of the incidents that is believed to have led to the start of the civil war in South Sudan.”
Initially pitting the Dinka and Machar’s Nuer against each other, South Sudan’s conflict has expanded, drawing in a variety of ethnic groups and grievances.
A peace deal was signed in 2015 but collapsed in July 2016 when fresh fighting in the capital Juba forced then first vice president Machar into exile. The opposition split, with Taban Deng taking over as first vice president, while Machar’s faction returned to battling the government in the bush.
Malong was sacked in May last year, and held under house arrest. On his release in November, he travelled to Kenya on a medical visit and never returned, prompting Kiir to declare him a rebel and accuse his loyalists of waging attacks against government. In January, Kiir accused Malong of mobilising for war.
With reporting from AFP