JUBA - A judge in South Sudan on Tuesday adjourned the hearing of four political detainees accused of attempting to oust the government in December and called for seven former detainees to appear in court next week when proceedings against the alleged coup-plotters resume.
Justice James Alala Deng adjourned the preliminary hearing of four political figures who have been in detention since clashes erupted in Juba in mid-December, until March 19.
The four detainees had their first day in court Monday after spending more than three months in detention.
Alala, who heads the five-judge panel hearing the case of the political detainees, also summoned seven former detainees, who were released on January 29th to the custody of the authorities in Kenya, to appear in court on the same date.
The 11 are accused of being part of what the government has called a failed coup on December 15 that plunged South Sudan into months of blood-letting, which is still raking parts of the young country. The detainees have denied plotting or being part of a coup bid.
The release of all 11 was supposed to be expedited under the terms of a cessation of hostilities agreement signed at the end of a first round of peace talks in late January between pro- and anti-government forces.
A key witness for the prosecution, police investigator Major General Jackson Elia, who was interviewed by the defense just before the hearing was adjourned, said former vice president Riek Machar and other leaders of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party used a press release issued on the eve of the unrest in Juba to incite the army to take up arms against the government.
Elia is just one of more than a dozen prosecution witnesses, lead defense lawyer Monyluak Alor said.
“We look forward now to having the prosecution witnesses one by one," Alor said.
"There are about 13 of them. So we will see whether they will all come. And in the course of time we will see if we have defense witnesses that we could invoke and bring to the court," he said.
A number of foreign lawyers are expected to join the defense team when the hearings resume, but so far, the government has not cleared them to take part in the proceedings, Alor said. The foreign lawyers were sitting in the public area of the small courtroom in Juba, awaiting their credentials, he said.
Security was tight at the courthouse on Tuesday, with one of the main roads leading to the building completely closed to traffic.