March 6, 2014 (NAIROBI) — South Sudan has dispatched a three-man team to try to convince African leaders that months of fighting in the young country were triggered by a botched coup bid led by former vice president Riek Machar — a message Juba has had difficulty convincing others is true.
A three-man delegation led by Ateny Wek Ateny, President Salva Kiir’s spokesman, has already travelled to Cairo, Kampala and Khartoum and was in Nairobi on Wednesday, where Ateny briefed reporters on the message South Sudanese authorities are trying to get across.
The government of South Sudan is not happy with media coverage in neighboring countries of the events that triggered the conflict, he said.
“What happened on the 15th of December, in our own definition and what we believe to have happened, was a mere military coup that failed,” Ateny said.
“The definition that was made outside seems to be gaining momentum, simply because the world of today has become where the truth is bought and sold,” he said.
The government has insisted since December that Machar, whom Kiir fired along with the rest of the cabinet in July, led a failed bid to oust the president, which snowballed into months of unrest across South Sudan, resulting in thousands of lives being lost and some 900,000 people being forced from their homes.
Machar, who went into hiding shortly after the fighting broke out, has denied having anything to do with a coup bid, although he has said since the violence erupted that he is in open rebellion against Kiir’s government.
As part of its mission to convince others that the government’s version of events in South Sudan is the correct one, the South Sudanese delegation has been handing out booklets entitled, “The truth about the aborted coup of Dr. Riek Machar and his group.”
Ateny told reporters in Nairobi that the fighting in South Sudan was sparked by a political rift, and was not a tribal war, and they should report it that way..
The officials will continue their tour for several more weeks, with the next stop an undisclosed country in West Africa.
Opposition calls tour ‘last kick of dying horse’
Goi Jooyul, an anti-government delegate at peace talks for South Sudan in Addis Ababa, which are currently adjourned but due to resume in two weeks, called the tour a waste of time and “the last kick of a dying horse.”
“Selling the idea of a coup… Everybody knows that there was no coup,” he said, adding that the tour could disrupt the “conducive atmosphere for the peace talks” at a time when the two sides are “moving towards reconciliation… towards an SPLM leadership meeting… towards governance issues to be solved in the next round.”
Jooyul said the opposition has no plans to hold a similar tour to win over media to their way of seeing the events in South Sudan.
Meanwhile, as Ateny and his teampursued their efforts to convince the world of how to cover the events in Juba in December, ruling party officials in South Sudan said Kiir has set up a committee to charge several officials with treason if a court finds them guilty of taking part in the alleged coup.
Among those the committee has in its sights are Machar, Taban Deng Gai, former governor of Unity state and the lead negotiator for the opposition at the peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, and Pag’an Amum Okiech, the former secretary general of the ruling SPLM party.
Amum is one of four SPLM political figures who are still in detention in Juba, months after they were taken into custody after fighting erupted in the capital in December.
The other three, who could also face treason charges, are former deputy defense minister Majak D’Agoot; Oyai Deng Ajak, former national security minister, and Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, who served as head of the government liaison office in the United States.
Machar, Gai and former environment minister Alfred Lado Gore fled South Sudan or went into hiding and will be tried in absentia.
South Sudan Justice Minister Paulino Wanawilla said in January that government investigators have found enough evidence to charge all seven men with treason for their part in what the government insists was a coup attempt that the accused say never happened.