South Sudan Ex-Army Chief Forms New Challenge for President

(Bloomberg) -- South Sudan’s former army chief Paul Malong formed a rebel group aimed at toppling President Salva Kiir’s administration, which it holds responsible for the nation’s economic and political crisis.

Malong was appointed by Kiir in 2014 to lead a military campaign against rebels of former vice president Riek Machar, only to be fired last year and exiled to neighboring Kenya. His army was accused of atrocities against civilians including raping, killing and plundering of properties in war zones, while Malong has been censured by the U.S. for obstructing peacekeeper and humanitarian missions.

The new rebel group, called the South Sudan United Front, is seeking to boost democracy and development in a country that’s been locked in civil war for more than four years, Malong said in a statement Monday. “The country has become a nest for systematic corruption which has devastated the lives of all citizens on a daily basis,” he said, citing nepotism, the on-going conflict, poor healthcare and a collapsed economy as evidence that Kiir has failed.

The war began in December 2013 and has left tens of thousands of people dead and displaced 4 million others. Crude production has slumped, bringing economic chaos to the oil-dependent country. While warring parties are expected to resume peace negotiations on April 26, the administration has said it could organize elections for a legitimate government if the opposition drags its feet on the talks.

The talks in neighboring Ethiopia are aimed at reviving a 2015 peace agreement that shattered in July 2016, three months after Machar returned to the capital Juba to deputize Kiir in a transitional government formed to end the war and usher in democratic elections. He fled South Sudan in December 2016 and has been under house arrest in South Africa since.

“Life has become hard, very hard,” Malong said. “Only the fat cats can provide for themselves.”

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