South Sudan’s former army chief Paul Malong Awan has rebelled against the government, officials said on Monday. Presidential Spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the former Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) chief of staff ordered his followers to attack government positions in several parts of the country, Xinhua reported.
Ateny said between December 26 and 28 last year, the former military chief instructed his fighters to attack the towns of Aweil and Wau, adding that last week’s clashes near the capital Juba were also ordered by Malong.
“We can confirm without reservations that the audio has born the true voice of General Paul Malong, the former chief of general staff of the SPLA,” Ateny said.
The government bases its accusations on leaked audio tapes circulating on social media. The audio tapes recorded in the Dinka language could not be independently verified.
“I can verify the voices of the people he spoke to. I know him (Malong); I know those who were speaking to him… therefore, there is no reason why I should not belief that it was Malong,” Ateny added.
Malong was widely regarded as a key ally of President Salva Kiir after he mobilized an ethnic militia to fight for the Kiir administration.
But in May 2016, Malong was sacked and put under house arrest before being allowed to leave the country in November to seek medical attention in Kenya.
Human rights groups have on several occasions accused Malong and his militia of committing atrocities on civilians across the war-torn country.
The former army chief is also among three South Sudanese officials sanctioned by the US and Canada last year for allegedly obstructing peace efforts and benefiting from the ongoing civil war.
South Sudan has been embroiled in four years of conflict that has created one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under United Nations pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July 2016.
The UN estimates that about 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced internally and externally.