December 28, 2013 (JUBA) - South Sudan announced on Saturday that it will release all but three of the nine remaining political detainees accused of conspiring to oust president Salva Kiir on 15 December.
- Former SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum Okiech (Reuters)
Eleven senior officials from South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) were arrested shortly after infighting within the army (SPLA) triggered a nationwide crisis almost two weeks ago. The announcement followed the release of two other detainees on Friday.
All the accused deny attempting to overthrow Kiir’s government, although former vice-president Riek Machar is now leading a rebellions against the government in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states.
The release of detainees has been one of the conditions Machar has said must be met before he will engage in talks to end the conflict, which has led to over 1,000 deaths and the displacement of over 120,000 people, according to the UN.
“The government had agreed in principle to immediate cessation of hostilities, so that access to humanitarian assistance and operations is not hindered”, minister of cabinet affairs Martin Elia Lomuro told journalists on Saturday.
“The government is also committed to peaceful dialogue and to release all political detainees consistent to our laws and the constitution, except individuals who have criminal cases to answer”, Lomuro said.
Media reports suggest that Machar has appointed Pagan Amum, the former SPLM secretary- general, to be part of his negotiating team in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Amum, is one of the three SPLM members that remain in detention, according to presidential spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny.
He said Amum, along with former finance minister Kosti Manibe and former cabinet affairs minister Deng Alor will not be released as they still have criminal cases to answer.
“Apart from these officials, the rest of the political detainees will be released. Two of the eight have already been released. They are now free since yesterday. The rest will also follow”, Ateny said.
The decision to release the political detainees and to declare a cessation of hostilities came after extensive consultations with the leaders of Ethiopia and Kenya during a visit to Juba on Thursday, where an agreement on unconditional dialogue was also reached, Lomuro said.
Lomuro said the government hopes that a political solution can be found to stop the young nation slipping into a full-blown conflict.
The decision to release more of the detainees “was arrived at after holding extensive consultative discussions at [the] high level of leadership. At the ministerial level meetings, there were queries which sought clarifications on the status and nature of the group the government would now enter into dialogue [with]. [If] it is [a] rebel movement then a name of this rebellion must be known”, he said.
The minister said Machar had complicated the negotiations by demanding that some of the political detainees in Juba be released so that they could participate in talks as members of his group.
“Imagine people have been arrested in connection with the alleged coup and instead of allowing them to clear themselves before the court of law he is making conditions and even appointing some of them in detention as members of the delegations to participate in the dialogue”, Lomuro said.
“He is confirming that they participated in this failed coup. I don’t know why he thinks like that. Some people are educated, but they have problem with reasoning”, he added.
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