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S. Sudan: 'Political Ambition' Behind Ex-Army Chief's New Rebel Group

FILE - South Sudan's former army chief, Paul Malong, talks to reporters in Juba, May 13, 2017.

South Sudan's former army chief, Paul Malong, recently formed his rebel group, the South Sudan United Front, as a result of political ambition, a government spokesman told VOA News on Tuesday.

"We have been monitoring his activities in Nairobi," spokesman Michael Makuei told South Sudan in Focus. "He had started recruitment, and he went to Khartoum, where he also did recruitment. Some of his followers here followed him, and according to our sources he has now declared his movement to overthrow the government and is charging the government with atrocities and corruption."

Malong, once one of President Salva Kiir's closest allies, was fired by Kiir in May 2017 and placed under house arrest in Juba. In November, he was granted permission to leave the country on medical grounds. He now lives in Nairobi.

Makuei said Malong was removed from his post because he was planning to stage a coup against Kiir. He said Malong had formed his new movement because of personal grudges against the Kiir administration.

"It was observed that he had suspicious activities that would lead to something like what he has declared now. He wanted to make a coup, but the government moved faster than him and he was released," Makuei told VOA.

Malong's spokesman told South Sudan in Focus on Monday that the former army chief had founded the South Sudan United Front to end what he called "the suffering of the South Sudanese people and to restore democracy and the rule of law."

'Nest' of corruption

In a statement Monday, Malong said: "The country has become a nest for systematic corruption, which has devastated the lives of all citizens on a daily basis." He cited nepotism, ongoing conflict, poor health care and a collapsed economy as evidence that Kiir had failed.

Makuei accused Malong of similar wrongdoing, saying he had presided over widespread atrocities as army chief.

"He is actually at the top of the corruption. He is at the top of atrocities ever committed, because all that he did during his time as chief of general staff were atrocities that were beyond anything. He has destroyed the army through corruption," said Makuei.

Makuei said the Kiir administration would not reach out to Malong and strongly warned him against mounting attacks on government positions. He advised Malong to the join the opposition during the next and final phase of peace talks known as the High Level Revitalization Forum, scheduled to take place at the end of April in Addis Ababa.

Malong said in his statement that his group would sign the Cessation of Hostilities agreement, which the government and various armed groups signed in December. He also asked the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is serving as mediator for the talks, to include his group in the opposition coalition that will negotiate with the government in Addis Ababa.