NAIROBI (Reuters) – South Sudan’s government has sought to disarm the bodyguards of detained former army chief Paul Malong on fears he might escape and launch a rebellion, his wife said on Saturday, highlighting tensions within the leadership.
Malong – the man who has led President Salva Kiir’s campaign against rebels – has been under house arrest since May after Kiir sacked him following a string of military resignations by senior generals alleging abuses and ethnic bias.
Malong had initially fled the capital Juba with a convoy of vehicles for his home state of Aweil following his dismissal – raising fears he might join opposition forces, before returning to the capital.
On Saturday, his wife Lucy Ayak told Reuters security officials arrived at their home late on Friday with “specific orders” from Kiir.
“They came carrying the order from the president and told General Malong that they had been ordered to disarm his bodyguards,” she said, adding that they also tried to take his phone and said his family members would not be allowed to visit.
“The government is thinking that General Malong might take the country back to war. The tension is still high … we do not know if they might come back and arrest him by force if he resists.”
Residents in Juba told Reuters heavily-armed soldiers have blocked the main road leading to his house.
Media outlets from Juba also reported that a senior commander in the army who is allied with Malong has also defected with the aim of launching a rebellion.
President Kiir’s press secretary Ateny Wek Ateny declined to comment, saying the “issue was purely an army matter”.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in 2013 after Kiir fired his deputy Riek Machar.
The conflict, largely fought along ethnic lines, has pitched parts of the oil-producing country into severe hunger, paralyzed public services and forced a quarter of the population – three million people – to flee their homes.