The head of the opposition United Democratic Front Party in South Sudan has said he and other party officials had their passports seized and were barred from traveling to Addis Ababa to attend a symposium ahead of the next phase of peace talks.
Peter Abdelrahman Sule said security officers stopped party officials from boarding a plane that had been specially chartered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to take civil society and political party members to Addis for the symposium.
Their passports were confiscated and they were referred to a senior security officer, who told them he had received orders to not allow the officials to travel, Sule said.
The government denied preventing anyone from traveling to the talks, but information minister Michael Makuei Lueth told The Citizen newspaper that the officials were prevented from travelling because they did not have passports.
The paper also quoted Makuei as saying those prevented from traveling did not have entry visas to Ethiopia and some of them thought they were going to Malakal or Wau.
Sule lashed out at Makuei.
“It’s very strange that such a high person in government would make such a claim, as if it was the first time that Peter Sule was going to board a plane... that Peter Sule and his friend never had any experiences of travel abroad before," Sule said.
"Treading on people’s rights in that manner and making such utterances after violating people’s rights to me is the highest arrogant person," Sule said.
IGAD said the symposium, which began Thursday at African Union headquarters, is bringing together representatives of South Sudanese civil society, the government and opposition, political actors, faith-based groups, and traditional leaders. The symposium is being held ahead of the next round of peace talks for South Sudan.
Sule said his party was invited to the talks by IGAD, and expressed surprise that the government of South Sudan was unaware of the invitation.
He said that by barring officials from other political parties besides the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) from participating in the peace talks, the government was a violation of an agreement signed on May 9 in Addis by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar.
“What happened to us is not simply a violation of our personal rights, our civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, our exercise of our liberty to travel unhindered, But it’s a cynical violation of the agreement of the 9th of May," Sule said.
"This agreement said clearly that the political parties are also stakeholders in the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa and, therefore, to stop us in this way can only show how people can play around with agreements. It shows the lack of truthfulness and the lack of sincerity with agreements,” he said.
Sule was released from prison in August after Mr. Kiir pardoned him for his role in forming a rebellion to topple the government two years earlier.