Deng Alor Kuol, South Sudan’s dissident negotiator

By Elissa Jobson in Addis Ababa

Deng Alor PS
The former Cabinet affairs minister, Deng Alor speaking to media in the past (Photo: Gurtong)

April 7, 2014 (Nyamilepedia) — The former cabinet minister who was arrested on charges of coup plotting on 16 December is now party to peace talks in Ethiopia and calling for a transitional government in South Sudan.

Standing Six foot ten inches tall, welcoming hand outstretched and softly spoken but with a beaming smile, Deng Alor Kuol does not come across as the coup-plotter type.

Yet it was his arrest with 10 others on 16 december 2013 in Juba on this very charge that triggered the implosion of the South Sudan government and weeks of murderous fighting.

There must be a new political dispensation that will be able to reconcile our people and chart the future

“We were arrested not because there was a coup […] there was no coup,” Deng told The Africa Reportin Addis Ababa, where he is now trying to negotiate a political settlement with rival politicians and military commanders.

The fault lines in the conflict – between the supporters of President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his sacked Vice-President Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon – emerged immediately after the arrests and threaten to destroy chances for stability in Africa’s newest nation.

The failure of Salva’s government to build a united and professional military has caused the army to implode, with one faction broadly backing Salva and the other backing Riek.

So bad is the situation that at least one of the opposition factions, called the White army, is beyond Riek’s command, although he mobilised it in the first place.

Deng, a former cabinet affairs minister in Salva’s government, is now playing a key role in trying to deal with the political disputes that sparked the fighting.

Deng’s group wants an interim government headed by an independent politician who would then prepare fresh and credible elections.

Highly critical of President Salva’s centralisation of power but opposing Riek’s military campaign against the government, Deng insists there must be wholesale reform of the governing Sudan People’s Liberation army and Movement (SPLA/M).

“The crisis that we are facing now originated within the SPLM leadership political bureau over issues of reform, transparency and democracy,” insists Deng.

“We wanted reforms, we wanted democratic changes, and [Salva] and a group of other members in the leadership didn’t like that.”

After pressure from regional leaders meeting in Addis Ababa for the African Union (AU) summit, Salva released seven of the 11 detainees including Deng into Kenyan custody.

Now they are in Addis arguing for an interim government led by neither Salva nor Riek.

“There must be a new political dispensation that will be able to reconcile our people and chart the future,” Deng insists.

He says this interim government should review the constitution and investigate human rights violations since 15 December.

He refers to an AU commission of inquiry, but there is no agreement yet on its terms of reference and what judicial powers it might have.

Deng says he is saddened by the schism with Salva, whose “leadership style is not as democratic as I thought.”

Salva was a family friend with whom Deng, other former detainees and the late John Garang de Mabior had founded the SPLM.

Together they fought a long and brutal civil war against the Khartoum regime and then brokered a difficult peace.

However, Deng is hopeful they can break the impasse in South Sudan: “It’s very difficult for any party to win this war and impose a solution. The only way is a political solution. I don’t think the parties that are fighting
can sustain this war.”

He gives a rueful smile and concludes: “Our people have gone though this fighting for a very long time. We don’t think we should take them back to the same misery and the same suffering.”

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