February 4, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – South Sudan’s former vice-president Riek Machar, now a wanted rebel leader, has reiterated calls for the release of the country’s four remaining political detainees, saying there was no reason for their continued stay in detention.
- South Sudan’s rebel leader, Riek Machar, gestures as he talks to his men in Jonglei state on 31 January 2014 (Reuters: Goran Tomasevic)
This comes days after South Sudan government released seven of the 11 senior members of the ruling party (SPLM) detained in connection with an alleged coup attempt in the capital, Juba on 15 December. The same authorities also slapped treason charges against four politicians, including Machar and two others still at large.
Machar, whom President Salva Kiir accused of an attempted coup after the 15 December violence, instead accused the latter of falsely maligning him and his group in order to silence opposition in the SPLM ahead of its national convention and 2015 elections.
Sources say the president had ordered the commander of the presidential guards units to disarm Nuer soldiers within the force, triggering the violence along tribal lines fitting the Dinka; Kiir’s ethnic group against the Machar’s Nuer community.
The ex-vice president has, however, admitted he launched a rebellion “forced on him” to fight for free and fair democratic reforms allegedly denied by President Kiir, dismissing earlier claims of a coup attempt while accusing the president of instigating the violence.
“There was never a coup plot in the first place. And the 7 SPLM party leaders recently released and those that are still in detention in Juba have not taken part in the new rebellion I am leading,” Machar told Sudan Tribune by phone from his secret location in Jonglei state.
He said the detained leaders were his colleagues pushing for peaceful democratic reform within the party, but were not part of the armed struggle.
“I don’t count them as part of the emerged armed rebellion,” he said, while referring to the 11 initially detained leaders, adding that it was only him, former Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai, and ex-environment minister Alfred Lado Gore who were up in arms against government.
The rebel leader, who currently leads the SPLM/A In Opposition, said his group was ready for the peace talks scheduled for 7 February in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, but added that his group were yet to be contacted on its preparations.
South Sudan government and the Machar-led rebels signed a cease-fire agreement on 23 January to end weeks of fighting that has killed thousands and displaced nearly a million civilians.
The two sides have been in peace talks under the mediation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for peaceful resolution of the crisis in the new nation.