Five of South Sudan's former political detainees returned to Juba Monday as part of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's initiative to kickstart the moribund peace process in South Sudan.
The five - Deng Alor Kuol, John Luk Jok, Cirino Hiteng, Kosti Manibe and Madut Biar -- were given a festive send-off at an event in Nairobi to mark Kenya's 52nd anniversary of independence.
Mr Kenyatta told them the hopes of the entire region, but especially of South Sudan, were travelling back home with them.
"We can say we are looking towards you to be the instruments of peace and stability in the republic of South Sudan. War has never benefited anybody," the Kenyan president said.
"Peace is what your people fought for, freedom. They did not fight to shed blood; they fought to have peace and to have prosperity. And it is your responsibility as leaders to provide it. And as you move forward you can count on Kenya, our region and our continent for support. Don’t let us down.”
Mr. Kenyatta launched his initiative to revive the peace process and end more than 17 months of war in South Sudan at the end of last week. The Kenyan president noted that neither the Addis Ababa peace talks, which regional bloc IGAD has been leading for 16 months, nor talks in Arusha, Tanzania, to reunify the SPLM, has yielded substantial results. The Kenyan president’s plan proposes merging those two processes and bringing together all the parties to South Sudan's conflict in a new peace effort.
South Sudan’s conflict began in mid-December 2013 when in-fighting erupted in the ruling SPLM. More than a dozen officials from the SPLM were rounded up shortly after the fighting started and were accused of plotting to oust President Salva Kiir in a coup. Most of them were released within weeks to the custody of the Kenyan authorities The have come to be known as the former political detainees.
The five former detainees who travelled to Juba will spend five days there on a fact-finding mission and report back to President Kenyatta. Details of exactly what the five will do in Juba are scant, but their main mission is to jump-start the peace process and end the conflict that has dragged on for nearly 18 months, devastating the economy and destroying millions of lives.