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Exiled Former Army Chief Refuses to Return to South Sudan

FILE - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, center, accompanied by army chief of staff Paul Malong Awan, right, attends an independence day ceremony in the capital Juba, South Sudan, July 9, 2015.

South Sudan's former army chief said he has no plans to return to South Sudan after completing his medical examinations in Kenya.

Gen. Paul Malong Awan told VOA's South Sudan In Focus that he has credible threats to his life in South Sudan.

"Why should I go to Juba? When they called me to come back, they put me under house arrest. Should I go to Juba to be arrested?" Awan asked.

Juba is the capital of South Sudan and its largest city.

Awan had been a longtime governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal before he was appointed chief of general staff of the Sudan People's Liberation Army by President Salva Kiir Mayardit. His appointment followed mass resignations by a number of senior generals who claimed the SPLA was involved in ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

Awan was fired by Kiir in May 2017, and attempted to return to his hometown of Aweil. However, his convoy was intercepted at Yirol.

He was persuaded by the elders in Yirol to return to Juba to talk with Kiir, and was placed under house arrest there.

The former army chief was released in November 2017 to seek medical treatment in Kenya after one of his wives and community leaders pleaded for his release.

"If you are put under house arrest for seven months without charges, will you feel that is friendship?" Awan asked. "Our friendship started when President Salva was not a president. And today, we are not equal. He is the president, and I am an ordinary person. You cannot force somebody to be your friend.''

In January 2018, the South Sudan government accused Awan of ordering opposition fighters to attack government positions across the country, a charge Awan vehemently denied.

"What do I have in that place?" Awan asked. "Yes, my family is there. Some of my family are here [in Kenya]. But I am denied to be liberal [free] when I am there. Why should I go where I can be arrested?"

The European Union imposed sanctions Friday on Awan and two current South Sudanese officials who were implicated in human rights violations and obstruction of the country's peace process.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions last year on two senior members of South Sudan's government, including the former army chief.

Awan said he does not work for the government of South Sudan and wonders why he is still being sanctioned by a foreign government.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.