April 8, 2014 (JUBA) – The South Sudanese army’s (SPLA) former chief-of-staff, Oyai Deng Ajak, has denied court testimonies he was involved in an alleged coup attempt to depose president Salva Kiir from power through military means.
- Former army chief-of-staff Oyay Deng Ajak (far left) with co-accused Pagan Amum Okiech, Majok D’Agot Atem and Ezekiel Lol Gatk listen in court during their trial for treason (Photo: Charlton Doki/VOA)
Ajak is among three senior officials from the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) charged with treason in connection to their alleged role in the violence that swept the country in mid-December last year.
The claims were made in court on Monday by witnesses testifying for the prosecution at the trial of the four officials, some of whom presented incriminating telephone recordings allegedly containing the voices of some of the four accused.
Ajak, who also served as the former minister for national security, has described the prosecution testimony as being “cooked” by dishonest security officers.
“All the audios that were claimed to be my voice have been edited. It is the world of technology and the dishonest department of national security manufactured them as evidences. They cooked them with the ministry of interior. I know very well, in my life, I have never failed to make changes in anything I do but I failed to do anything in national security as a minister for two years because they (security) complicate everything. Even the two officers who said they recorded the audio are not from the department of interception. I know all personnel in that department,” an emotional Ajak told the packed court room.
He told the judges that the testimony presented of his involvement in the alleged failed coup attempt contained no tangible evidence.
However, Ajak has confirmed that former unity state governor Taban Deng Gai, who fled Juba for the bush after the eruption of violence and is now leading rebel negotiations, informed him on the morning of 15 December that tensions were building as a result of an attempt to disarm guards loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar by some armed units within the presidency.
The former military officer gave a detailed account of his movements on 15 December, the day clashes erupted in the capital, Juba, between rival factions of the presidential guards, triggering violence across the country as government forces battled Machar-aligned rebels for control of key areas.
Ajak said he was at his home with Gai when the latter received a phonecall, during which he became visibly agitated.
He said Gai, who was speaking in the Nuer language, interrupted his conversation with the person on the other end of the line to inform him that guards of the former vice-president had called to ask for help because they had been surrounded by armed units and were already unarmed as their weapons were in the stores.
“Taban advised me that the problem has to be resolved now otherwise Riek’s officers are going to cause problems and Taban gave me the phone and I talked to them simply telling them to be calm,” said Ajak
He described South Sudan’s security apparatus as the “main problem” in the country, accusing Thomas Duoth, the director general for external security, for failing to adequately communicate the situation with Kiir, who could have influenced the guards to remain calm.
“He (Thomas Duoth) failed to reach the president within [the] shortest time possible but took almost 10 hours to tell the president what was going on. These dishonest personnel are the problem,” he said “All what has been said is not true.I served as chief of general staff of the SPLA and did not overthrow the government, why now?”
According to Ajak, at about 11:45pm (local time) the same day his body guard informed him that shooting had erupted at the Gaeda military barracks.
After hearing the news he immediately jumped in his car and drove to the house of James Hoth, the army’s current chief of general staff. However, after his friend assured him the situation was under control, he decided to return home again.
“I returned to the house and when I arrived home, Taban immediately called me and said the guards of Riek Machar are under pressure and Riek had given them [the] OK to take their guns. This is what happened. And as you can see, I did not initiate any communication as it is being alleged. I was only receiving calls,” he said.
MAXIMUM SENTENCES SOUGHT
As well as treason, Ajak and his co-accused – former secretary-general Pagan Amum Okiech, former deputy defence minister Majak D’ Agoot and and former diplomat Ezekiel Gatkuoth Lol – are facing charges of incitement of the masses, causing disaffection among police or defence forces, defaming the government and undermining the authority of the president.
Both Machar and Gai have also been charged in absentia.
The South Sudanese government has called on the court to impose maximum penalties against the four political detainees, despite mounting international pressure for their release.
Meanwhile, observers say the treason case highlights the challenges that exist between the three power centres: the executive branch of government, the fledgling judiciary and parliament and the army, widely viewed as fragmented and ethnically divided.
Thousands have been killed and more than one million displaced in the conflict, with a tenuous ceasefire agreement signed by warring parties in January failing to halt the violence on the ground.