South Sudanese President Salva Kiir rejected a call by mediators to free 11 politicians arrested when a conflict erupted three weeks ago, as Sudan ruled out a joint force to secure the neighboring state’s oil fields.
Three Intergovernmental Authority on Development envoys traveled to Juba, the South Sudanese capital, yesterday to meet with Kiir, amid talks in Ethiopia between government and rebel representatives aimed at securing a cease-fire. Violence in the country has killed thousands of people and forced 201,000 more to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
The East African mediators came “to plead with the president again for the release of detainees, but the president told them that this thing is not in my hands,” Ateny Wek Ateny, Kiir’s press secretary, said in a phone interview today. “It will require these people to be investigated first.”
The release of the detainees is a key demand of rebel forces led by former Vice President Riek Machar. The U.S., U.K. and European Union have also urged the government to free the politicians, who were detained without charge and include Pagan Amum, former secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
“These people being in jail is part of the problem,” rebel spokesman Mabior Garang told reporters in Addis Ababa today, adding that if they were freed they would join the peace effort. “They’ve been in jail for a long time without charge. That is a violation of their civil rights and liberty so they should be released.”
Shifting the talks to Juba would allow the detainees to take part, Ateny said today. The rebels had not heard of South Sudan’s proposal to relocate, said Garang in an interview.
Fighting broke out on Dec. 15 after Kiir accused Machar of trying to stage a coup, a charge Machar denies. The violence has sparked clashes between members of Kiir’s ethnic Dinka community against Machar’s Nuer group.
The rebels have ceased attacks on government positions “because we’re giving the peace process a chance,” spokesman Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang told reporters in Addis Ababa today. Areas being held by the rebels including Jebel Kujur, 7 kilometers (4 miles) west of Juba, and the eastern town of Bor, will remain under their control, he said.
“In the immediate future the areas we are controlling, we are holding them,” Koang said.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 following a two-decade civil war.
Landlocked South Sudan has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves after Nigeria and Angola, according to BP Plc data. It has been exporting all of its crude -- about 245,000 barrels a day -- through pipelines across Sudan. The fighting has cut output to about 200,000 barrels daily. Oil exports provide more than 95 percent of government revenue.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry denied there are plans to use a joint Sudanese and South Sudanese force to protect oil-producing regions along the nations’ border, after Foreign Minister Ali Karti said on Jan. 6 that “there are intentions” to deploy the troops. Kiir held talks with his Sudanese counterpart, Umar al-Bashir, in Juba on Jan. 6.
“It is not true that President Bashir and his accompanying delegation to Juba discussed forming joint forces to secure oil fields in South Sudan,” the ministry said in a statement published on the state-run Sudanese Media Center’s website.
“President Bashir said that lessons could be drawn from Sudan’s experiences in securing borders with Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea through joint forces to secure borders between Sudan and South Sudan at a later stage after the current exceptional circumstances end,” it said.
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