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South Sudan's Former Strongman Forms a Rebel Group

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.

The former head of the South Sudan army, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), has formed a new rebel group known as the South Sudan United Front (SSUF).

General Paul Malong Awan released a statement Monday outlining the objectives of his new group, which he said will fight "systemic corruption, stop ongoing carnage, steer the country [South Sudan] toward democracy, justice, equality and freedom."

Awan also pledged to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in December last year by the various warring parties and he urged the regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to allow his new group to be part of the high-level revitalization forum meeting scheduled April 26 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

A spokesman of the South Sudan United Front, Sunday De John, told VOA's "South Sudan in Focus" program Monday from Nairobi, Kenya, that the new group will work toward achieving peace in South Sudan.

"The real change that would be impacted on the lives of people [in South Sudan] through good governance and the rule of law. The current state of South Sudan is not commensurate with the principles on which South Sudanese went to the bush to [fight] for 21 years.'' John said.

South Sudan Information Minister and government spokesman Michael Makuei declined to comment Monday. He scheduled an interview with VOA on Tuesday.


The European Union imposed sanctions in February on Awan and three current South Sudanese officials implicated in human rights violations and obstructions of their country's peace process.

John said the sanctions imposed on Awan by the U.S. Treasury Department and the European Union are not justified. He said the former chief of staff was carrying out orders from President Salva Kiir, who is the commander in chief of the South Sudan army.

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 Kiir. His appointment followed mass resignations by 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.

Rebel groups

Awan's statement expressed interest in joining various rebel groups that have been meeting at the Ethiopia capital in an effort to end the conflict in South Sudan.

"It is not an opportunistic move. It is the comprehensive peace that is desired by South Sudanese,'' John said.

It is not immediately clear how many people have joined Awan's new rebel group. John said the size and the structure of the forces of South Sudan United Front will remain a secret.

The conflict has devastated the country, causing a humanitarian, political and economic crisis. More than 1.5 million people are on the brink of famine — twice as many as the same time last year. More than 4 million people, or a third of South Sudan's population, have fled their homes, causing Africa's largest refugee crisis.

Close to a dozen of armed and unarmed opposition groups have rebelled against the Kiir administration.

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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.
    Before joining VOA, John worked in Nairobi, Kenya where he established the first independent radio station (Sudan Radio Service) for the people of Sudan. He has covered several civil wars both in Sudan and South Sudan and has been engaged in the production of civic education materials for creating awareness about post conflict issues facing Sudanese and South Sudanese. John has interviewed South Sudan President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, Vice President Wani Igga, leader of Sudan’s Umma Party Sadiq Al Mahdi in addition to other senior United Nations and U.S government officials in South Sudan and Washington. His travels have taken him across to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, DRC Congo and parts East Africa where he reported on the South Sudanese diaspora and the challenges facing them.
    A South Sudanese national, John enjoys listening to music from all over the world, reads academic books, watches documentaries and listens to various radio stations on the internet.  You can follow John on Twitter at @Abusukon