April 24, 2014 (JUBA/ADDIS ABABA) – The South Sudanese government said on Thursday it was dropping treason charges against the four senior politicians detained in connection with an alleged coup attempt in mid-December last year.
- 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)
Justice minister Paulino Wanawilla Unango said the government took the surprise decision against the four detained officials for “the sake of peace and reconciliation”.
“The case was being terminated for the sake of peace. It is not that there was no evidence,” Unango told reporters in the capital, Juba.
Quoting 25 of the Criminal Act, the minister said the move to halt the prosecution of the four officials was a directive from president Salva Kiir.
The four officials include former security minister Oyay Deng Ajak, former secretary-general of South Sudan’s ruling party (SPLM) Pagan Amum Okiech, former defence minister Majak D’Agoot and its former US envoy Ezekiel Lol Gatkouth.
The special court was expected to make a preliminary ruling on the case on Wednesday to determine whether the accused have a case to answer or not.
In January, seven co-accused officials were released on bail and sent to neighbouring Kenya for safety.
The cancellation of the prosecution case is expected to be finalised on Friday after the final court session, at the end of which the political detainees, some of whom have expressed a readiness to work with Kiir, will be set free.
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Meanwhile, the SPLM-in-Opposition welcomed Juba’s decision to drop the charges against the four detainees, who have been in detention for nearly four months.
The four senor SLM officials were arrested after being accused of plotting a coup attempt with former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar. All of those accused have denied the allegations.
The move by the Juba government comes two days after the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional bloc mediating peace talks between the two warring factions, decided to adjourn a new round of negotiations, initially scheduled to resume on 23 April, until 27 April.
In statement to Sudan Tribune from Addis Ababa, rebel negotiator Puot Kang Chol urged president Kiir to immediately allow the four officials to join their fellow colleagues, who were released after a peace agreement signed on 23 January.
Chol called on the government to allow the four officials to leave South Sudan so that they could play a role in the ongoing IGAD-led peace process.
With all the 11 political detainees seemingly freed, it remains to be seen whether they will join the rebel movement, the government or remain as a separate third bloc.
IGAD has already suspended the participation of the seven former detainees in the ongoing Addis Ababa peace process. The decision followed calls from the South Sudanese government to restrict talks to the parties directly involved in the conflict.