by Julius Gale
JUBA, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- The South Sudanese army on Sunday downplayed fears that an ongoing standoff between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and bodyguards of former army chief Paul Malong Awan would escalate into violence in Juba.SPLA Spokesman Lul Ruai Koang told Xinhua by phone that tension emanated after the former military strongman refused to have his bodyguards disarmed.
Juba was tense on Saturday as soldiers blocked major roads including the one leading to the airport and surrounded the home of the ex army chief.
"The government had asked him (Malong) to reduce the platoon under his command to three bodyguards, but he refused to cooperate and the SPLA has deployed around his home to avoid the misunderstanding escalating into violence," Koang said.
"The government has no intention to make the situation escalate," he added. "We are in negotiation with General Paul Malong and we hope that the misunderstanding will be addressed soon."
Before his sacking by President Salva Kiir in May, Malong was widely regarded as kiir's close ally who mobilized an ethnic militia to fight for the Kiir administration.
Human rights groups have on several occasions accused Malong and his militia of committing atrocities on civilians across the war-torn country.
The former army chief is among three South Sudanese officials sanctioned by the United States in September, and by Canada this month, for allegedly obstructing peace efforts and benefiting from the ongoing civil war.
The east African nation has been embroiled in almost four years of conflict that has taken a devastating toll on the people, and creating one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival leaders under United Nations pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity government, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July 2016.
The UN estimates that about 4 million South Sudanese have been displaced internally and externally.