By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 13, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) - The seven South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM) leaders, recently released from detention in Juba, announced on Thursday that they would neither ally with government nor rebels led by ex-vice president Riek Machar.
- Former South Sudanese detainees hold a press conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 13 February 2014 (Photo: IGAD)
The seven SPLM leaders, who have been in in Kenya since their release on 29 January, arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa on Wednesday night to take part in the second round of peace negotiations between the South Sudan government and the SPLM/A-in-Opposition rebels.
The talks are aimed at ending almost two months of conflict that began in disputed circumstances on December 15 among an elite unit of South Sudan’s army (SPLA) following weeks of tension within the ruling SPLM.
In a press conference on Thursday, the former detainees said they will participate at the on going peace talks as a third independent group, which they called it ’SPLM leaders former detainees’.
A member of the group told Sudan Tribune that the new SPLM leader’s team doesn’t have different political position from that of SPLM/A-in-Opposition delegation including on key issues such as ensuring democracy and good governance in South Sudan.
Their participation as a third bloc is due the fact that the former detainees don’t have armed forces on ground unlike Machar’s group. Machar and some other senior members of the SPLM had held a press conference in earlier December criticising the leadership of President Salva Kiir.
While Machar escaped from Juba with former Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai, when the fighting began. 11 senior SPLM members were arrested and accused of being behind an alleged coup attempt in the country.
After international pressure and a ceasefire deal signed on 23 January Juba released seven of he detainees but kept four, including the SPLM’s former secretary general in custody.
The team of former detainees are calling for an all inclusive dialogue to end the nearly two-month old conflict that has killed an estimated 10,000 people and forced almost a million to flee their homes.
They further also urged the government to release of the four SPLM leaders who remain in detention in connection to the alleged coup attempt of December 15 which they underscored was not a coup but only a misunderstanding between members of the presidential guards.
The seven former detainees, in a joint communiqué, called on President Kiir to allow Peter Adwok, a former politburo SPLM member, who had been barred from traveling to Ethiopia to take part in the first round of peace talks, to now be allowed to join them in Addis Ababa.
The group of the former detainees reiterated their commitment to a peaceful settlement to the crisis in South Sudan but further expressed concern over the humanitarian situation and called on the government, United Nations and the international community increase the provision of humanitarian aid.
The seven SPLM leaders also lauded IGAD’s involvement in event that led to their release, but stressed that their general treatment while in detention "was not that bad". They further said they weren’t beaten, were well treated, but hardly saw the sun.
The United Nations on Wednesday said the humanitarian crises in South Sudan has hit ’level three emergency’, the highest level under the UN’s categorisation placing the East African nation at the same level as the current humanitarian crisis in Syria.
They stressed a need to focus on a political settlement and called on IGAD and the international community to urgently deploy the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism - agreed under the cessation of hostilities agreement - to ensure the last month’s deal is implemented effectively.
They further noted that Uganda’s military presence in South Sudan would negatively affect efforts to bring about a political solution to the crises in the world’s youngest nation.
With regard to the former detainees’ decision to join talks as third party, SPLM/A-in-Opposition official said his team respects their neutral position in the negotiations.
"What we demanded from the beginning was that the released detainees should join the peace process whether they choose to join our delegation or stand as a third party" The spokesperson of the SPLM/SPLA- in Opposition, Yohanis Pouk, told Sudan Tribune in Addis Ababa late on Thursday.
"We share with them the same political view and there is no doubt that they will contribute positively as senior political leaders" he added.
Bor Gatwech, the coordinator for SPLM In Opposition in Addis Ababa also confirmed plans by the seven senior SPLM leaders to form a third bloc at the ongoing talks.
"They want to pursue the political reforms in non violent way," Gatwech told Sudan Tribune, adding "So, they will sit as a separate group during the talks and express their political views to the IGAD mediators."
The political talks between the two South Sudanese warring factions focusing on the root causes of the conflict, on political and national reconciliation are expected to resume tomorrow in the presence of the former detainees under the auspices of the East African regional bloc IGAD.
The venue of peace talks has been moved from the Ethiopian capital to Deberezait, a resort town some 50 kilometers south of Addis Ababa.