By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 12, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The chief negotiator of the SPLM/A in Opposition said on Wednesday his negotiating team had yet to decide on whether it would boycott South Sudan peace talks should a court ruling go against four senior political figures charged with treason.
- South Sudan political detainees (left to right) Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, Majak d’Agoot, Pagan Amum and Oyai Deng Ajak at a trial hearing in Juba on 11 March 2014 (Photo: AFP/Andrei Pungovschi)
General Taban Deng Gai told Sudan Tribune that it is too early to consider pulling out of the ongoing negotiations while the court hearing is still in its early stage.
However, Gai said his negotiating team would make a decision once the court passes its ruling.
The charges against the four senior officials from the country’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) include treason, incitement of the masses, causing disaffection among police or defence forces, defaming the government of South Sudan and undermining the authority of or insulting the president.
While Gai confirmed his team will continue to participate at the next round of negotiations due to resume on 20 March 20, he said he will not be taking part in a planned SPLM political bureau meeting, which is reportedly due to be held in Ethiopia.
Rebels said they have no knowledge about the meeting or who had called it.
The four political detainees faced court on Tuesday in the South Sudan capital, Juba, with the government asking the court to impose the maximum penalties.
Pagan Amum Okiech, former SPLM secretary-general, Oyai Deng Ajak, former army chief-of-staff, Majak D’Agoot, former deputy defence minister and diplomat Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth have been in detention since their arrest in connection to their alleged role in a reported coup attempt to overthrow the government in mid-December, which sparked violence around the country.
Gai, former turned rebel leader vice-president Riek Machar and former environment minister Alfred Lado Gore have also been charged in absentia.
Seven out of the initial 11 political detainees accused of plotting the alleged coup were released following a ceasefire agreement brokered by the Intergovermental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating the peace talks.
However, initial pledges by Juba to free the remaining four detainees under IGAD’s accountability, went unfulfilled, despite mounting international pressure.
Puot Kang Chol, one of the representatives of the 16-member rebel delegation, told Sudan Tribune that the launch of trial proceedings against the four political detainees undermines the Addis Ababa peace pact signed on 23 January.
He said the court trial further highlights Juba’s reluctance to implement the terms of the agreement signed between the government and opposition forces aligned with Machar.
South Sudan rebels in Addis Ababa have slammed ongoing proceedings in Juba, describing the hearing as a “kangaroo court”.
Chol has accused president Salva Kiir of trying to falsely prove the occurrence of a coup that never took place.
“This is not a real court, because these are concocted evidence by both the chief of justice and Salva Kiir. The judgment is known because all Kiir wants to prove is that there was a coup”, he said.
He urged youth, the wider public in South Sudan and the international community not to recognise the trial, saying the court had no legitimacy.
The rebels claim the court trial violates January’s peace accord, as well as the South Sudan constitution, adding the move was an indication of the Juba administration’s defiance to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
NO EVIDENCE OF COUP
Rebel officials argue that there is no evidence showing how the alleged coup was planned or carried out, reiterating calls for the president to release the four detainees.
“We still urge president Kiir to release them. You can’t reach any conclusion in South Sudan without the participation of these [four] SPLM leaders,” Chol said
He said the current crisis could not be solved without addressing the root cause which triggered the violence, adding that the participation of the detainees in ongoing negotiations was critical.
“What we have been calling for is; there were no coup; release these men so that they participate [in peace talks] because it is signed in the status of the detainees that their participation is crucial and that was the document we signed,” Chol said.
“Especially if you talk about Pagan [Amum] for you to solve the problem you must dig the root causes of the problem. We all agree the crisis is political and started within the SPLM and you can’t solve it without the secretary-general of the party because he is the one who has the documentation of this.”
An estimated 10,000 people have died and almost one million displaced since conflict erupted in the country.
Peace talks were suspended earlier this month to allow further consultations between IGAD and civil society representatives.