By Jason Patinkin
WASHINGTON D.C (Reuters) - South Sudan has withdrawn troops and armoured vehicles surrounding the former army chief's house, a military spokesman said Sunday, ending a weeklong standoff that raised fears of clashes in the war-torn country's capital.
Army spokesman Lul Ruai Koang said in a statement the army pulled back its troops late on Saturday after General Paul Malong agreed to reduce the number of his bodyguards.
Malong's wife Lucy Ayak told Reuters by phone from Nairobi that her husband remains under house arrest but said the troop withdrawal is a "sign of peace." Ayak could not confirm if the reduction of bodyguards took place.
Malong led the army's war effort against rebels from 2014, but was sacked and placed under house arrest this May after a fall-out with President Salva Kiir.
Last weekend, Kiir sent troops to disarm Malong's bodyguards, but they refused. Kiir's troops surrounded the house.
Malong is under U.S. sanctions and has been accused, along with Kiir, by a U.N. experts panel of leading troops who murdered and raped civilians during the civil war.
South Sudan's war began in 2013 between Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.
Tens of thousands have been killed and the war has created Africa's largest refugee crisis in two decades. The U.N. said the conflict's ethnic cleansing was setting the stage for genocide.
Malong is also Dinka, and the standoff with Kiir raised fears of fighting within the ethnic group, which is South Sudan's largest and comprises the bulk of the army and the government's ruling coalition.
One commander loyal to Malong joined Machar's rebels with dozens of armed troops during the standoff. Dinka leaders from around the nation convened to negotiate a solution.
Earlier in the week, Malong requested the U.N. mission in South Sudan to intervene and give him protection. Malong's troops have been accused of attacking UN installations and killing peacekeepers. The U.N. did not respond to the request.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth)