The wife of the former head of South Sudan’s army says her husband has been under house arrest for months on the direct orders of President Salva Kiir.
In an exclusive interview Monday, Lucy Ayak Malong, the wife of Paul Malong Awan, told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that her husband has not been allowed to leave Juba since May, when the president fired him.
Malong’s health has deteriorated steadily since she last saw him in the capital two months ago, according to Ayak, who is living in Nairobi, Kenya. She refused to disclose her husband’s medical history, but said she is deeply concerned about his health under government-ordered confinement.
Ayak wrote an open letter last week to President Kiir requesting he release her husband.
“I cannot lie about the health of my husband because I am the one who knows him very well. He is not feeling well; that is why I have written that letter to the president,” Ayak said.
On May 9, Malong left Juba under cover of darkness with bodyguards and a fleet of vehicles. He was headed to his home village in Aweil state via the town of Yirol in Lakes state after hearing he was fired. Days later, Malong returned to Juba after community leaders from Aweil convinced him that he would be safe if he returned to the capital.
The government of South Sudan has denied reports that Malong was placed under house arrest. Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told a local radio station in Juba last week that Malong’s wife is simply seeking international attention. Ayak said Ateny is not telling the truth.
“Ateny just wants to cover up what they have done. He [doesn’t] want the world to know that General Malong has been under house arrest for almost three months and they denied him access to medical checkups,” Ayak said.
Ayak said government officials have denied her husband permission to see his family in Kenya, adding, “He has to be with his family and kids; his kids need him.”
Ayak said their home in Juba is surrounded by soldiers. Ayak said she questions why the government deployed soldiers if her husband is not being confined.
She said community leaders from Aweil state where Malong once served as governor have appealed to Kiir to release him on medical grounds, but said the president has yet to respond.
“We have tried all our best and we are leaving it to the hands of the president to decide because all attempts have failed,” Ayak said.
President Kiir appointed Malong as chief of general staff of the military in April 2014, one year after violence erupted in the capital following a disagreement between Kiir and then-deputy, Riek Machar. Malong then become the real power behind the scenes in Juba, according to multiple sources close to Kiir. Malong was fired after several generals resigned, citing a lack of leadership in the army. They accused Malong of forming tribal militias fighting alongside the government against rebels allied with Machar.
The power struggle that started in Juba led to fighting in the capital and other parts of the country. The fighting continues despite efforts by the regional bloc IGAD to broker a truce.