February 7, 2014 (JUBA) - Leaders from various business entities in South Sudan claimed on Friday that mounting international pressure on the government to release four political detainees without due legal process would undermine the constitution.
- A few men walk through Bor market in South Sudan’s Jonglei state, in the aftermath of massive looting carried out by rebel forces. Ongoing fighting has severely disrupted trade and business activities across the country (Photo: AFP/Waakhe Simon Wudu)
Seven of the 11 senior figures from the country’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberations Movement (SPLM), detained after conflict erupted in the capital, Juba, on 15 December, have since been released.
President Salva Kiir has accused detainees of colluding with former vice-president Riek Machar as part of an alleged coup attempt to overthrow the government.
The release of all political prisoners had been a key demand of pro-Machar rebel forces during negotiations with the government on a ceasefire agreement.
“They (the international community) are making this as one of the conditions to expedite peaceful dialogue. In our view, this approach undermines the constitution. The government should be allowed to finish all the investigation, including taking to court those believed to have masterminded the failed coup attempt, instead of sabotaging the efforts”, Lual Bol Kuan, spokesperson for South Sudan business community, told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Kuan said ongoing violence in the country had virtually paralysed business and commercial activities.
“All market prices are either rising in some places or have collapsed in others. Infrastructures in the three states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei have been severely damaged. Foreign business representatives have fled. Commodity supply corridors have been disrupted by this senseless conflict”, Kuan told Sudan Tribune.
“Our rural populations are unable to bring their produces and livestock and fish to the markets for sale. The conflict has significantly affected our people in so many ways”, he added.
EVIDENCE OF COUP PLOT
Meanwhile, deputy interior minister General Jadalla Augustino Wani said the government was now in possession of new evidence showing that what happened in Juba reflected a well-planned and coordinated coup to violently remove the democratically elected regime from power.
“We are surprised that coup attempts are rejected everywhere in the whole world, but what see now is the continued pressure on the government [to] release those suspected to have played a key role in this conflict. Those denying do not have the evidence we have”, Wani told reporters on Friday.
The minister echoed views expressed by president Kiir on Thursday that his government would only release those still in detention once they had been charged and tried in accordance with the provisions of the country’s transitional constitution.
“You cannot talk about releasing the suspect when investigations have not been completed. Even in America, a suspect goes through all the legal process before any relevant authority takes appropriate decision”, Wani said.
“If the president now to releases these people, the same people who are now calling for the release of the detainees will later come out and say, ‘Look, these people have violated the constitution’. What these people should do now is to exercise patience. Let them wait [and see] what the government will do”, he added.
DETAINEES NOT IN THE CLEAR
Speaking at a briefing on Thursday which brought together members of his leadership council, among others, Kiir said the seven figures released last month could still be tried under the country’s transitional constitution, should an investigatory committee find they have a case to answer.
Kiir said an investigatory committee had categorised the detainees into two separate groups.
The first - ’Group A’ – comprising of the four political figures still in detention, as well as Machar, Taban Deng Gai and Alfred Lado Gore, is considered to have played a major role in the alleged coup plot and will not be eligible for a pardon.
The second - ’Group B’ - on the other hand are considered to have played some role in the plot, but there is currently insufficient evidence to prosecute them.
The seven detainees, who were released into the custody of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta after being granted bail, currently remain in the neighbouring African nation amid safety fears.
Those still in detention are former SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum Okeich, Former deputy minister of defence Majak D’Agoot, former minister for national security Oyai Deng Ajak and former ambassador to the US Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth.
The outbreak of violent conflict in South Sudan followed worsening political tensions within the SPLM, which culminated in Kiir sacking his entire cabinet last July, including Machar.