By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
In this photo released by the Kenya Presidency, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, center, receives seven of the 11 leaders accused of plotting a failed military coup in South Sudan in December on 29 January 2014 (AP)
February 9, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – The government of Kenya refused to allow the seven freed Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-In-Opposition) leaders leave Kenya to Ethiopia to attend the second round peace talks with the South Sudanese government, a rebel official said on Sunday.
Nonetheless, rebel sources from Nairobi say the freed political leaders would eventually fly to Addis Ababa on Monday to join the talks after clearing a misunderstanding with Ugandan authorities.
A member of the rebel negotiating team in Addis Ababa, who preferred anonymity, late on Sunday told Sudan Tribune that Kenya declined to allow them leave for Ethiopia claiming their bail terms demanded that they stay within Kenyan territory.
The official opening of the next round of talks is slated to resume on Monday, February 10, 2014 despite the decision taken by the Kenyan government.
The rebel official said his negotiating team is demanding that they come to Addis Ababa and attend the peace talks.
He further warned the SPLM-In-Opposition negotiating team would not engage in the talks opening Monday unless the seven political figures arrive in Addis Ababa at least Monday morning.
“This is because that they [the seven leaders] are the only delegation we have so far,” he added.
The seven political figures were freed on 29 January and arrived in the Kenyan capital the same day following a ceasefire agreement signed in Addis Ababa on January 23.
Following their release, South Sudan’s minister of Justice, Paulino Wanawilla Unago, told Sudan Tribune that the seven leader were moved to Kenya for safety reasons.
He however added, “presidents from our neighbouring countries had promised (…)” to bring them back to Juba “when there is a need for further investigation, especially if they are found later to have participated in the failed coup attempt”, he said.
JUBA THREATENS TO TREAT FORMER DETAINEES AS REBELS
Few days ago, mediators from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) traveled to Nairobi where they met the seven SPLM-in-opposition leaders and invited them to take part in second round of peace talks aimed at ending weeks of violence that has killed an estimated 10,000 people.
In a statement issued on 5 February, IGAD said the seven freed political leaders have expressed their commitment to be part of the talks.
However South Sudanese information minister Michael Makuei Lueth rejected the participation of the SPLM-leaders saying they will be considered as rebels.
“If they want to participate [in the talks], we will count them within the insurgency,” said the minister in statements to the London based Asharaq Alawsat published in its 10 February edition.
Lueth further said “We do not accept any third party in the negotiations”, alluding to a proposition examined by the mediation to include them as a third party in the peace talks.
MACHAR CONDEMNS KENYA’S DECISION
The South Sudanese rebel leader, Riek Machar, criticised the decision to prevent the seven leaders from travelling to Addis Ababa to attend Monday’s planned peace talks.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune on Sunday, Machar questioned the neutrality of Kenya, saying “they should not have heeded to the demand by the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir to confine the leaders to Kenya”.
Machar also ruled out the possibility of creating another third party in reference to rumours that the mediation team may float the idea of creating another third neutral body besides that of Kiir and Machar.
“The seven leaders should be allowed to travel to Addis and decide which side to join and represent in the conflict,” emphasised South Sudan’s ex-deputy president-turned rebel leader.
Kenya has been playing a neutral position even during the 21 years old conflict between SPLM/A and Khartoum government as well as during the factional conflicts within the South in which it accommodated all groups on its territory.
The next round peace talks will focus on the root causes of the conflict, political dialogue and national reconciliation for the world’s newest nation, which proclaimed independence from Sudan in 2011 under a 2005 peace deal, after decades of bitter war.
Currently, there are four other political detainees in Juba, including the former SPLM secretary-general Pagan Amum, but Juba insists they should be tried for treason with preliminary investigations reportedly linking them to alleged coup d’état.
President Kiir accuses his former deputy Machar, of staging a coup attempt in the South Sudan capital on 15 December last year, an allegation the latter denies.