WASHINGTON / JUBA —
The government of South Sudan is denying that former army chief of staff General Paul Malong has been released after six months of house arrest.
"No, these media reports are not true. He is not released, he is in his house," South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei told VOA's South Sudan in Focus on Friday.
Malong's wife, Lucy Ayak, told VOA on Thursday that Malong had been released for medical reasons.
Friday, she retracted that statement, telling SSIF that her husband is closer to finalizing plans for his release.
"He is in Juba right now. He is in residence," said Ayak in a phone call from Nairobi.
Malong was fired by President Salva Kiir in May, after a string of resignations by senior military officials who alleged there was ethnic bias in the army and that soldiers were committing war crimes in the context of South Sudan's civil war.
When asked why she told VOA on Thursday that her husband was released, Ayak said she was told "by someone" that "General Malong has been released."
She said that after she talked to VOA, she called a number in Juba and was put through to Malong, who told her that he was fine and that "I have been in a meeting with the elders and they conveyed the message to me that I am to be released."
Ayak said Malong told her "they will finalize the issue of my release tomorrow morning." She said that meeting was to take place Friday morning in Juba.
Earlier Friday, government tanks and troops could still be seen outside Malong's residence.
Recently, dozens of tanks and troops were deployed along the road leading to Malong's home in Juba after Malong refused a presidential order to release a platoon of 30 soldiers guarding him. Ayak told VOA that some of the men deployed to her husband's home were police, while some were from military intelligence.
Ayak said she would hold President Salva Kiir responsible if anything happened to her husband. Ayak also said she had written Kiir several times pleading with him to release her husband, but received no response.
Lual Dau, the former deputy governor of Lol state, told South Sudan in Focus earlier this week that most soldiers in the South Sudan army hail from Malong's home area of Aweil and were not happy about the way in which Kiir was treating Malong. Dau resigned his position in May after accusing the Lol state governor of being corrupt.
Talks have continued all week to peacefully resolve the standoff between Malong and the Kiir administration.
On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Juba posted a security alert on its website to American citizens. It said the security situation is unchanged, but said embassy personnel have been directed to avoid the two-block radius of the presidential compound until the standoff involving Malong has been resolved.
VOA's Dimo Silva contributed to this report.