South Sudan 'coup leaders' face treason trial

South Sudan's Minister for Justice Paulino Wanawila speaks to the media during a press conference in Juba on 28 January. He answered questions on the arrest of opposition leaders who he said had tried to stage a coup Image copyright AFP
Image caption Taking a tough line, South Sudan's Minister for Justice Paulino Wanawila explains plans to try rebel leaders

Seven South Sudanese politicians face charges of treason over an alleged coup attempt in December that sparked weeks of fighting, the authorities have said.

Eleven officials were arrested at the time and the rebel side has made their release a condition of any peace deal to follow last week's ceasefire.

Those to be tried include three people not in custody, including ex-Vice-President Riek Machar.

Seven of the other detainees have been released to the authorities in Kenya.

They have appeared at a news conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in the capital, Nairobi.

Correspondents say the treason charges, announced by South Sudan's Justice Minister Paulino Wanawila, could jeopardise the ceasefire deal.

The government had previously indicated that it might grant an amnesty the detainees, who are prominent political figures from a faction of the governing SPLM party.

It underscores the animosity between the government of President Salva Kiir and the rebels, many of whom are loyal to Mr Machar.

Although both men have supporters from across South Sudan's ethnic divides, fighting has often been communal, with rebels targeting members of Mr Kiir's Dinka ethnic group and government soldiers attacking Nuers.

Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar and other former officials of attempting a coup after fighting broke out in the capital Juba on 15 December, something Mr Machar denies.

'Not bitter'

Mr Wanawila said treason charges would be brought against four men who were already in custody, plus three men on the run.

"If someone violates the law you don't go and torture that person, you prosecute that person according to the law," he said.

The seven men targeted for trial include:

  • Riek Machar, whose sacking in July as Mr Kiir's deputy sparked much of the unrest
  • Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling party
  • Former National Security Minister Oyai Deng Ajak
  • Former ambassador to the US Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth
  • Chief rebel delegate Taban Deng, who signed the ceasefire.
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The ceasefire was agreed last Thursday after talks in Ethiopia
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption UN aid chief Valerie Amos visited one of several UN warehouses from which a total of 3,700 tonnes of food was stolen
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More than 645,000 people have been displaced by the conflict

One of the detainees released in Kenya, former South Sudan Justice Minister John Luke, said they wanted to work with mediators to quickly resolve the crisis.

"We don't feel bitter, we don't feel that the president is our enemy... we are all feeling sad about the tragic situation," he said at the news conference.

Both sides say they are committed to the ceasefire, but there is still fighting in some areas, and the United Nations has described the situation as "fragile".

Aid groups say up to 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

The UN says more than 646,000 people have been displaced inside South Sudan and more than 123,400 people have fled to neighbouring countries.

The UN's aid chief Valerie Amos has wrapped up a three-day visit to the country with a trip to Malakal, where she said some people were afraid to return home despite the truce.

Baroness Amos said the people she spoke to said they had "completely lost faith'' and wanted to be relocated to other parts of South Sudan, or even out of the country.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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