ADDIS ABABA - One high-ranking member of the South Sudan ruling party, the SPLM, says he is joining the rebels who have been fighting the ruling party and President Salva Kiir since December.
The defector, Ezekiel Gatkuoth, is one of 11 former political detainees and the former ambassador for South Sudan to the United States and the United Nations.
He says he has decided to join the opposition under the leadership of former vice president Riek Machar to build a new South Sudan.
“The new beginning is a new South Sudan where I would want to see the war to stop and have a South Sudan free from ethnic politics and embrace all the critical reforms including institutionalization of a federal system. This South Sudan will only come if a new leadership emerges,” Gatkuoth said.
Eleven SPLM leaders were arrested after fighting broke out in December. They were accused by Kiir of plotting a coup and were only released after international pressure.
Seven of the 11 were released in February. These seven stated they would not join either side, and wanted to join ongoing peace talks in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, as a third party in order to be neutral. The last four detainees were released in May.
Gatkuoth is the only one to join the opposition, but believes the 11 were never really neutral as they had raised issues of corruption, nepotism and other matters to Kiir before the war broke out. He says that all former detainees are championing reforms.
“My colleagues who are still in that category of former detainees, we are one and we will continue to be one. We will work together to bring changes in our country, changes that we have been calling for, critical reforms," said Gatkuoth.
Peace talks between the warring parties have made little progress. Three agreements have been signed, including a cease-fire that has been repeatedly violated by both sides.
The two sides were given 60 days in June to set up a transitional government of unity.