Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - The seven former senior South Sudanese officials whom Juba released from prison on regional bloc Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) bail on Thursday urged the warring sides in world’s youngest nation to end the conflict quickly.
The seven former detainees, most of whom were members of President Salva Kiir’s cabinet until their arrest in mid-December, arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday night to join the second round of peace talks in Ethiopia as a third party.
“The suffering of our people is too immense; people are dying; living in the bushes and refugee camps. If the conflict is not resolved quickly before the rainy season, which has already started in some parts, there will be tragic humanitarian crises,” John Luk Jok, former Justice Minister now spokesperson of the former detainees’ bloc, told journalists in Addis Ababa.
The seven former detainees, including Deng Alor Kuol, former Minister of Cabinet Affairs in Kiir’s government, also said Juba must release the remaining four detainees if second round talks were to succeed.
“The release of the four is a must for the success of the talks. Their detention is a violation of the agreements (in first round talks),” Alor Kuol said at a press conference in the Ethiopian capital before the former detainees, who call themselves “the Seven SPLM leaders” were taken to a resort in Deberezeit, over 40km southeast of Addis Ababa, where second round talks are taking place.
Under the terms of the agreement signed at the end of January between the warring sides, the release of all 11 detainees was supposed to be expedited. But Juba kept the four former senior officials of the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), which spearheaded decades civil war against Sudan that ended in the secession of Juba from Khartoum in July 2011.
In about two years since independence, the SPLM leadership suffered a devastating split that culminated in armed conflicts in mid-December following what the government claimed was a failed coup.
“The failed coup is a fabrication to get rid of political opponents,” said Alor Kuol while Luk Jok added that “none of us believed there was a coup”.
According to Alor Kuol, the four detainees are kept by government to justify there was a coup attempt by continuing with the charges of treason the seven were also accused of.
The second round talks is supposed to focus on reconciliation and building a political dialogue between the two sides. But the talks are taking place against the backdrop of ongoing fighting in parts of South Sudan, including in rebel leader Riek Machar's hometown of Leer.
The seven SPLM leaders, who decided not to side either party, saying the war cannot solve the political crisis, also condemned Uganda’s involvement saying it was playing a negative role unlike other IGAD countries.
“As a country, the killing of people and continued fighting for control of territory is not the best way of addressing the current crisis,” their statement said blaming both sides.