JUBA — Seven former political detainees from South Sudan will take part in peace talks for the country as a "third party," alongside negotiators for President Salva Kiir's government and opposition forces, including loyalists to former vice president Riek Machar.
One of the seven, former South Sudan Justice Minister John Luk Jok, told reporters in Addis Ababa on Thursday that the former detainees, all of whom are members of South Sudan's ruling SPLM party and were detained shortly after violence erupted in Juba on Dec. 15, want to jump start the talks so that peace can be restored in South Sudan.
"The suffering is too immense," Luk said. "Children are dying, women are dying and suffering. People are in the bush. People are in the United Nations camps, with barely anything to depend upon.”
Another former detainee, one-time Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor said that because the seven understand the origins of the conflict in South Sudan, their input will be a big help to the negotiations.
“Because... this conflict started in the party, it started in the SPLM -- the SPLM political bureau -- it’s an issue of a lack of democracy within the party," Deng said.
Luk said the former detainees were invited to participate in the talks by the South Sudan government and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating the talks.
IGAD organizers were not on hand to explain how the detainees would be integrated into the talks. But a spokesman for the anti-government side, Lul Ruai Koang, said the presence of the seven as a third party will make the negotiations more complicated.
"They are saying they are going to take part in the talks. I do not know what issues they are going to negotiate on and with which party," he said.
The seven detainees-turned-negotiators were held for more than a month before they were released last month to the custody of the authorities in Kenya.
Four SPLM leaders, including former Secretary General Pagan Amum, remain in prison.
The government has said it plans to charge them and three others, including Machar, who are either in hiding or outside the country, with treason for launching what the government has said was a coup. All of the detainees and political figures who are in hiding or have fled South Sudan deny having anything to do with an alleged coup bid in South Sudan.
Anti-government negotiators threatened to boycott the second round of peace talks, which got off to a halting start this week, unless the political detainees were freed. They dropped their boycott threat when IGAD mediators promised them that the seven former detainees would be allowed to travel to the talks from Nairobi.