By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
July 12, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) –South Sudan’s SPLM in Opposition group on Saturday refuted as “baseless” claims its leader, former vice-president Riek Machar, had demanded a ransom to release a Kenyan pilot.
The South Sudanese government last week said that rebels were demanding a $1.5 million ransom payment to free the pilot who was detained after his plane was seized in Jonglei state last month.
“This was cheap propaganda by the government in Juba. Nobody demanded the alleged ransom,” said Peter Adwok Nyaba, a former political detainee who recently joined the rebel faction, told Sudan Tribune.
Nyaba said the allegations were false, adding the Kenyan pilot had since been released and handed over to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and flown back to Nairobi.
The former senior member of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) alleged that the pilot was detained on suspicion his passengers were on a mission to assassinate senior members of the opposition group’s leadership.
He said the pilot had entered airspace in the rebel-controlled area without permission from authorities and without the knowledge of the rebel faction.
Nyamba, a former minister of education, science and technology, is the second former political detainee to join Machar’s group after ambassador Ezekial Lol Gatkuoth joined the rebel movement late last month.
In a statement last week, South Sudan’s embassy in Kenya described the actions of the rebels as an “act of terror”.
“This is an act of terror and the international [community] should come out and fight it to [the] finish whether it is practiced by Riek Machar in South Sudan, Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-shabaab in Somalia,” the statement said.
“Terrorism is the same in Tora-Bora (in Afghanistan) as it is now the case in South Sudan, practised by the so-called White Army of Riek Machar,” the statement adds.
The rebels have accused president Salva Kiir and several other senior government officials, including foreign affairs minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, of involvement in the alleged assassination plot foiled by rebels.
The government has dismissed the allegations, saying the pilot was in the area delivering humanitarian aid.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune, another rebel official recalled the occurrence of a similar incident in February when the government allegedly sent a plane to spy on rebels.
The rebel official said the plane was seized after landing in Nasir where, but later released after an investigations were carried out.
He said no ransom had been demanded in that case either.