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South Sudan Government Wants Ex-Detainees Out of Peace Talks

  • Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

The South Sudan government has sent a letter to a regional body mediating peace talks in Addis Ababa, asking that seven former political detainees who are suspected of plotting to oust the government be barred from the talks.

"You cannot include in the negotiations people who are needed by the court. This is something illegal," said Mawien Makol Arik, a spokesman for South Sudan's foreign affairs ministry. The letter was sent to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) negotiators in Addis.

A spokesman for the opposition negotiating team, Hussein Mar Nyuot, was not available for comment but the opposition has consistantly said it wants all stakeholders represented at the peace talks that began in January.

The seven were officials in South Sudan's ruling SPLM party before they were detained in December, along with four other SPLM members. The seven took part in the second round of peace talks, which were adjourned early this month to allow the warring sides to consult documents that will guide the talks going forward.

The government of South Sudan complained during the second round of talks that there were too many parties involved, and pointed at the seven former political prisoners who were participating as a third party.

An earlier request by the government for the seven former detainees to be excluded from the talks went unheeded by IGAD.

Arik said although the government wanted the former detainees excluded from the talks, it was prepared to continue negotiating with the opposition.

The talks were due to resume last week but were stalled over whether or not the former detainees should take part. They are due to resume on Tuesday, he said, voicing hope that the negotiations will bring peace to South Sudan this time around.

The government charges that the violence that erupted in Juba on Dec. 15 and led to the arrests of the 11 politicians was a failed bid to oust President Salva Kiir. The 11 politicians have been accused of helping to plot the alleged coup, which the government says was led by Kiir's former deputy, Riek Machar.

In the January talks, the government and opposition signed agreements calling for both sides to lay down arms and that the political detainees' release to be expedited.

Seven were released a week later but four others -- former SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum Okiech, former Security Minister Oyay Deng Ajak, former Deputy Defense Minister Majok D'Agot Atem, and former envoy of the semi autonomous Southern Sudan government to the US, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth -- are still in custody and are appearing in court, accused of treason.

The seven have ignored a judge's order for them to return to Juba and appear in court. All the detainees, past and present, have denied being part of a coup bid.