Tired of war: South Sudan army chief Malong says fighting with Machar is not ultimate solution

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South Sudan military chief of staff General Paul Malong, also listed by US for sanctioning told a high level meeting in Juba that the raging war against armed opposition can not be the ultimate solution to the anarchy the country is facing.

“As soldiers, we are ready for anything, whichever option, we will accept to stop this war,” Malong said adding that “…for us, peace is our priority…”

Although this is not the first time a high level government official is denouncing war in South Sudan, it is a statement so rare of a very authoritative and arrogant general who is viewed as the operational conduit of power.

Experts on state formation in South Sudan define Malong, who is also nicknamed the shepherd from Bahr El Ghazal as the real power behind the country’s president Salva Kiir.

Clémence Pinaud, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University’s Department of International Studies wrote in July that “Malong established his authority over Northern Bahr El Ghazal and the SPLA during the civil war that spanned from 1983 to 2005. In this period, Malong dominated the local war economy and used its proceeds to cement strategic allegiances. He did this through the practice of large-scale polygamy and by god fathering his supporters’ marriages“.

His powers have since remained undisputable. Malong recently told a visiting group of foreign and regional journalists that exiled Machar and his armed forces were not a threat to the nation.

He boasted of allegedly foiling Machar’s plot to eliminate president Kiir through a coup in which he said the rival’s attempt was a “very big miscalculation”.

“He left Juba with the same miscalculation,” he said, “He first asked for ammunition and guns to go back to war. But this miscalculation is coming to an end. Machar is not a threat anymore.”

In trying to analyse his new “detest” for war, plural news website Sudan Tribune reported that while Juba has ostensibly claimed it remains committed to peace, it is secretly preparing for war. However, is remains unclear whether Malong’s declaration requires to be treated as such.

Quoting military sources, the blog reports that president Kiir is working to absorb disgruntled armed men allied to Machar who are reportedly familiar with the terrain so “reconstitute itself as a stronger force” and neutralize the rebel leader.

In September, a United Nations report revealed that the deadly fighting in Juba was orchestrated by high level officials close to president Kiir and executed under the command of the shepherd from Bahr El Ghazal.

The report indicates that leaders are intent on a military solution that has escalated the conflict from a “primarily political to tribal war”.

The fighting in which hundreds died forced Machar to flee Juba into DR Congo and later Khatoum, collapsing the peace agreement that had brought calm after 20 months of a brutal civil war started in December 2016.

Machar now hole up in South Africa called for a return to arms. He has since been declared persona non grata in the world’s youngest nation.