December 22, 2015 (JUBA) – General Paul Malong Awan, chief of general staff of the South Sudanese army (SPLA), has returned to Juba on Tuesday after allegedly avoiding the reception of the 150 advance team from the rival faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) under the leadership of former vice-president, Riek Machar.

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President Salva Kiir, (L), accompanied by army chief of staff Paul Malong Awan, (R), waves during an independence day ceremony in the capital Juba, on July 9, 2015 (Photo AP)

Awan left Juba on Friday and flew to his home state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal ahead of the scheduled return of the advance team on Monday, with speculations that he purposely didn’t want to be present at the time when his former enemies were returning to the capital.

Nobody from government’s senior military generals from the military command council in Juba showed up at the airport to receive the advance team which included senior military commanders from the SPLA-IO.

Deputy chief of general staff for operations, Lt. Gen. James Koang Chuol Ranley and Major General Martin Terensio Kenyi, were among the advance team.

It was only the presidential guards commander, Marial Chinuong, who received members of the armed opposition’s advance team on behalf of the South Sudanese army.

There was no official information on the purpose of his sudden visit to his home state over the weekend. No official statement about the visit was issued by the spokesperson of the army. Several military sources have provided conflicting information.

Awan’s critics have interpreted his departure from the national capital and lack of appearance of military commanders and top level security personnel at the reception of the advance team of the armed opposition members to mean a protest after he and some government officials showed reluctance to approve the return of the advance team, claiming it was huge and security risk.

His aides and allies in the army admitted he visited his village but downplayed the existence of a rift in the government over the size of the returning advance team of the armed opposition, asserting that the arrangement was purely done by the government with the army participating in preparation to provide adequate security and protection to members of the opposition as directed by the authorities.

However, army deputy chief of general staff for operations told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday he was not aware of the absence of the chief of staff, claiming he was working normally.

“The chief of general [staff] is in Juba working normally. There is no problem I know”, Lieutenant General James Ajonga Mawut, told Sudan Tribune without providing additional comments when reached to comment on reports Awan was not seen on Monday and Tuesday in his office at the general headquarters located north of Juba town.

Awan is one of the senior military officers and government officials who expressed dissatisfaction with key provisions of the peace agreement, specifically those related to the security arrangement matters.

During the process on agreement on security arrangements, he refused and turned down presidential directive to lead a group of military commanders to the security arrangement workshop which the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) convened in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in October after the parties signed the peace agreement in August.