January 19, 2014 [JUBA-ADDIS ABABA] — Peace mediators from the East African regional body IGAD departed from Addis Ababa and were expected to arrive in Juba by Sunday evening for talks on the release of political detainees, according to a South Sudanese government source.
IGAD, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, is chaired by the Ethiopian prime minister, who is hosting the two South Sudanese delegations for peace negotiations at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa.
The regional body has appointed a mediation team headed by Seyoun Mesfin, a former foreign minister of Ethiopia, together with retired Kenyan general Lazaro Sumbeiywo and Mohammed al Dabi, a former Sudanese chief of military intelligence.
Mesfin and other mediators have met separately with both South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar to discuss a draft truce deal as well as the issue of the 11 dissident SPLM politicians whom Kiir arrested in mid December and accused of plotting a coup.
Throughout most of the last month the opposition leader Riek Machar demanded the release of the politicians as a pre-condition before any truce. Formally, the mediators have separated the two issues of the ceasefire and the detainees, saying that one should not be a pre-condition for the other.
But practically, the mediators tackled the two issues nearly simultaneously. On Saturday afternoon they handed to the delegations a proposal on the issue the detainees. The development came after the Machar group accepted the mediation’s final draft proposal on cessation of hostilities.
A member of the South Sudanese government’s negotiating team in Addis Ababa said on Sunday he expected the detainees to be released. The negotiator, who preferred not to be named, explained to Radio Tamazuj that the purpose of the mediators’ trip to Juba was to attend the release of the detainees.
The parties are also expected to sign soon the cessation of hostilities document to which they agreed on Saturday. Presumably the document would be inked by the heads of delegation, Nhial Deng for the government and Taban Deng for the opposition.
Handling of the detainees
Kiir’s spokesmen in Juba have repeatedly emphasized that the eleven high-level politicians cannot be released without first undergoing investigation for their alleged role in attempting to overthrow him.
The president tasked his justice minister Paulino Wanawilla with carrying out the investigation. During a meeting of the cabinet on Friday the minister was apparently urged to ‘expedite the process,’ the local Catholic Radio Network reported.
The eleven detained politicians are Oyai Deng, Gier Chuang, Kosti Manibe, Majak D’Agooth, Pag’an Amum, Chol Tong, Deng Alor, John Luk, Madut Biar, Ezekiel Gatkuoth, and Cirino Hiteng.
They are being held at the National Security Service premises in Jebel area of Juba, according to a source who had recent access there.
Previously they were being held at the home of Cirino Hiteng near the UNDP compound, and at the outset they had been held at the home of Inspector-General of Police Pieng Deng in the Amarat neighborhood.
The same source also claimed that the president was ready to clear the detainees for release some time ago, but was advised against this by his information minister and justice minister because they said the detainees might afterwards take the government to court for holding them illegally without ever having brought charges.
Photo: IGAD Special Envoys Amb. Seyoum Mesfin and Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo