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South Sudan Army Chief Sparks Controversy

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

South Sudan's opposition faction is calling recent comments by the country’s army chief of staff, “anti-peace and anti-democracy."

Last week army chief of staff Paul Malong Awan said as long as he lives, former vice president and rebel leader Riek Machar will never become president of the world’s newest nation.

Speaking during a visit to his home village of Malualkon, General Awan did not say how he would prevent the opposition political leader from becoming president.

Machar spokesman James Gatdet Dak condemned Awan's comments as "an unfortunate reminder that there are senior political and military officials of the government in Juba who are not for peace and democracy."

Machar to travel to Juba

Awan’s comments came after Machar announced plans to return trip to Juba on April 18 to take up his position as the country’s first vice president to form a transitional unity government under a 2015 peace accord that ended more than two years of civil war.

Elections, including presidential contests, according to the peace agreement, will be conducted at the end of 30 months of transitional period.

Dak said Awan had no right or power to deny a citizen or political leader his or her right to contest for the South Sudan presidency.

The spokesman said Awan's comments bring into question the government's commitment to peace.

He added, "This has raised a serious concern about the way the implementation of the peace agreement is heading. This means there is underlying plan by General Paul Malong Awan to violate the peace agreement, and even to harm Dr. Machar.”

Dak said that he wished that President Salva Kiir came out and denounced what his army chief of staff has declared, calling the comments anti-peace and anti-democracy.

'Clear the air'

"This would clear the air and assure the rest that what the army chief of staff has said is not shared by the president,” Dak said.

Supporters of the government said Awan’s pronouncements are his and should not be misconstrued to be a reflection of Kiir’s government.

They contend that as a citizen the army chief has a right to express his personal opinion. They also said Awan’s statement should not affect Machar’s planned trip to Juba.

Dak said the controversy will not affect Machar's plans to return to Juba.

“But still we are worried the comments may be backed by negative actions," he added.