South Sudan’s foreign minister says President Salva Kiir has instructed the minister of justice to expedite “legal processes” against the detained officials accused of plotting to overthrow the government in Juba.
Barnaba Marial Benjamin also called for the faction led by former vice president Riek Machar to show commitment at the ongoing peace negotiations in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to end the conflict and stabilize the security situation.
Benjamin’s comments followed demands by the international community, including the U.N. Security Council, for the release of the detained officials as part of the peace process to end South Sudan’s conflict.
No release until 'legal processes’ conducted
The administration in Juba has informed the international community, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the detained officials could only be released after the conclusion of the “legal processes,” according to Benjamin.
“Once these legal processes are initiated, investigation is done [and] charges are made, then there is within our constitution a point at which the president can intervene,” said Benjamin. “That is when it is possible for the president not to break the constitution, where he can be able to effect the release the detainees according to legal results that come out of that. So I can assure you that the president is committed to that.”
If Mr. Kiir just releases them, Benjamin says, the detained officials can turn around and take the president and even the country to court and argue they were arrested without evidence.
He said the international community could also ensure the release of the detainees is on the agenda at the ongoing peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia.
“Let it then be in the agenda of the dialogue as one of the articles as cessation of hostilities. Let them put the issue of detainees to be discussed by the delegations that are in Addis [Ababa],” said Benjamin.
Some analysts say the government has exceeded the number of days allowed by law to continue to detain the officials without charges or prosecution. Benjamin conceded the legal process has been slow.
“They should not be held beyond the limited time and that is why the president has urged the minister of justice to expedite [the process] because they also have their constitutional rights that need to be protected,” said Benjamin.
He expressed optimism the peace negotiations will soon lead to a political solution to end the violence.
“We are fully committed to resolving this issue,” said Benjamin. “We have assured the IGAD countries; we have assured the African Union and even our friends including the United Nations that the [government and] is committed to peace is committed to resolving this issue peacefully.”
Who started the conflict?
Some observers have criticized the administration in Juba for the ongoing conflict that has left more than 1,000 dead and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. They contend the government is also to blame for the ongoing conflict.
Benjamin disagrees. “The government has the constitutional mandate to protect the sovereignty of the Republic of South Sudan,” he said.
“It is the other side that is attacking the government positions. That is why they occupied Bor, [and] Bentiu. It is incumbent on the government to see that these people do not occupy those positions, because this is sovereignty issues.”
Clottey interview with Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan foreign minister