South Sudan army forces loyal to former Chief of General Staff, Gen. Paul Malong Awan, have defected and declared their allegiance to SPLM/A in Opposition under the leadership of the country’s former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny.
The group which is led by Lt. Col. Chan Garang Ding Lual, Maj. Aguer Atak Mariik and Maj. Dut Deng Kolong defect in response to growing tension in the capital between forces loyal to President Kiir and the bodyguards of the former Chief of General Staff, Paul Malong Awan.
Malong has refused to comply with an order from President Salva Kiir who ordered his army Chief of General Staff on October 30th 2017 to disarm and arrest bodyguards of his former boss, Malong, who has been serving house arrest for the past 5 months in the capital, Juba.
Gen. Malong, a former governor of Northern Bhar el Ghazal, commands allegiance of ten of thousands of soldiers whom he recruited and trained during his time as the Chief of General Staff of SPLA between 2014 and 2017.
Some of these men, who are senior generals in the army have promised Lt. Col. Chan Garang to supply him with logistic if he defects and establishes a stronghold outside the capital.
According to Lt. Col. Garang, his forces attacked and captured a tiger division outside the capital along Juba-Yei road, however, they lost contact with their superiors in Juba and therefore they didn’t receive any logistical support from their allies.
Chan accepted what he calls “betrayal” from his former generals and now declares his full allegiance to Dr. Riek Machar and the SPLM/A-IO hierarchy.
“Because I have committed myself for a cause bigger than Aweil, I decided to safe my life and the lives of my soldiers by declaring our allegiance to SPLA-IO under the able leadership of Dr. Riek Machar Teny the legitimate President of the Federal Republic of South Sudan” Said Lt. Col. Chang Garang Ding Lual.
Lt. Col. Chan and his forces, which he estimate to be more 200, have reported to SPLA IO Division 9B under the overall command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Gore Lojing.
So far Chan is happy that the forces he joins are well organized and professionals.
Based on a discussion with Dr. Machar, Lt. Col. Chan believes that SPLA-IO will be restructured to accommodate Gen. Malong. He hopes his soldiers will be fully integrated into the main armed opposition, SPLA-IO.
“We have joined forces to free Gen. Malong Awan and Dr. Riek Machar has promised us to restructure the SPLA IO military to consider the position of Gen. Malong once he is free” Lt. Col. Chan claims.
At the time of this writing, situation remains tense in Juba as Malong continue to resist forceful disbarment of his men in uniform.
In response, government forces have besieged Malong’s residence and cut off basic supply such as food and water, which Malong’s wife Lucy Ayak strongly protested in her latest interviews.
President Kiir has sent elderly politicians known as the Jieng Council of Elders and religious leaders from the Dinka tribe to persuade Gen Malong to lay down his arms and comply with Kiir’s Republican order.
So far no positive update has emerged from Malong’s residence.
Gen. Malong is sanctioned by the United States and Canada for weighing a brutal war in favor of President Kiir in the last four year but despite sanctions and house arrest he remains a hero among the Dinka tribe.
Many critics and observers have condemned the latest turn of events in South Sudan politics as President Kiir now cherishes Machar’s former allies more than the men who sustained his administration in the most difficult time.
Contrary, many Opposition supporters under Dr. Machar’s leadership, who once hate Malong to death, are eagerly welcoming the latest developments as they believe Malong’s defection could weaken Salva Kiir’s leadership just as Taban’s defection has weakened the opposition.