JUBA, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- The South Sudanese army (SPLA) confirmed on Thursday that its senior officer has defected to the rebels amid ongoing standoff with the former army Chief of General Staff General Paul Malong.
SPLA spokesperson Brigadier Lul Ruai Koang revealed that Chan Garang, formerly of the 7th division in Torit, Imatong State before his recent defection to rebels, had been under investigation on charges of rape, murder and cattle theft committed 14 years ago.
"The SPLA headquarters would like to admit that one of our officers Garang defected. The news about his defection came to us not long ago; the commander in charge of his previous unit wrote official letter admitting that Garang defected from the national army," Koang said in Juba.
Garang joins several officers like Thomas Cirilo, the former Deputy Chief of Logistics who defected from the SPLA last year, and is now leading a separate rebellion from the main SPLA-in opposition rebels under former First Vice President Riek Machar.
Koang said Garang, a former affiliate of a militia group led by Agany Abdel Bagi Ayii, escaped justice because he was about to be dismissed from the SPLA without post-service benefits for the serious crimes he committed in 2003 in the Northern Bahr El Ghazal area.
He added that Garang was a beneficiary of the general amnesty issued to several militias to join the SPLA prior to the independence of South Sudan in 2011.
"All these crimes he (Garang) had committed were reflected in the verdict and the decision was made that he would be expelled from the SPLA without post-service benefits. So he disappeared only for us to hear on Voice of America that he had defected," Koang disclosed.
However, Garang was quoted by media reports to have defected because he was unhappy with the treatment meted out by the State on Malong who is under detention, but the latter's wife Lucy Ayak dismissed Garang's view.
Meanwhile, the army spokesperson also denied knowledge of any request by Malong to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to mediate the current impasse in the capital.
"Its part of the wider rumor mongering which is going on. Once everything is handled diplomatically and politically, I don't see any reason why UN should come in, any small problem we have is going to be solved by us since we have the solution," Koang said.
He added that the ongoing standoff is a political issue which is being handled by the leadership to ward off some bad elements from wrecking havoc.
He reiterated that Malong no longer qualifies to have the 30 bodyguards at the center of the standoff which the State wants to withdraw for deployment elsewhere from the general's home adjacent to the State House.
"He was an SPLA soldier and former Chief of General Staff, but from the time he was relieved of his duties he became an ordinary civilian and that is why we are saying he is no longer one of us, he does not qualify to have a platoon at his home," he said.
Malong who is indicted by the United States is largely blamed for orchestrating the renewed fighting in July 2016 that forced rebel leader Machar to flee into exile.
South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013, after political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to split within the SPLA, leaving soldiers to fight alongside ethnic lines between the two major ethnic groups Dinka and Nuer of which the two rivals belong respectively.