Juba — South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit says he will only release political detainees, who accuses of participating in an alleged failed coup, if it can be proved that others were in fact responsible for atrocities committed over the last week.
"Whenever I receive a call from some members of the international community, one of the things they tell me is to release political detainees", Kiir said his first address to South Sudanese members of parliament on Monday since the violence began on 15 December.
"I am ready for dialogue and to release [...] these people. I can pardon them if you can [show] me someone who would be held accountable for atrocities they have committed in this senseless war. If I leave them to just go, who would be held responsible?" Kiir asked.
The conflict, which began with a clash within the Presidential Guards of the South Sudanese army (SPLA), has spread to other parts of the country after senior military officers defected and have led mutinies against the government in Jonglei and Unity state.
Human Rights Watch and others have reported that many of the killings - the official figure has remained at around 500 the last week - have been along ethnic lines, despite the cause of the fighting being a political struggle within the ruling party.
President Kiir said Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, the widow of the founding leader of the governing Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), John Garang de Mabior, had also asked for release of eleven political detainees during a closed door meeting with him on Sunday.
Nyandeng and the detained politicians have allied themselves with Riek Machar, the former vice president, in opposing what they describe as Kiir's increasing "dictatorial" rule.
They also complain that the internal functions of the ruling SPLM have not be allowed to proceed, including re-electing a new party Chairperson. Nyandeng and Machar have both expressed their desire to challenge Kiir for the position.
Since the fighting began Machar has been on the run and has assumed leadership of the soldiers in Unity and Jonglei state that have rebelled against Kiir and the alleged targetting of civilians along tribal lines in the capital Juba.
Although he denies instigating a coup, Machar now says he wants Kiir to be removed.
"You have heard conditions Riek Machar had given. One of these conditions is that I should step down. The other is that political detainees should be release before going for dialogue", Kiir told members of parliament.
Kiir said he was not surprised to hear the conditions because it was not the first his former deputy has called for the resignation of someone above him.
"I was not shaken because this was not the first time. He made similar conditions in 1991 when he attempted to depose John Garang. One of the first conditions was that Garang must go and the release for the political detainees. Democratic reforms and human right issues also came up but what happened when he formed his own movement? He became the worse" offender, Kiir said.
Peter Adwok Nyaba, former minister of higher education, said his in comments published on multiple news outlets that Machar may be prone to errors of judgment but this does not mean he did not have a point in his opposition to the way the SPLM's leadership was behaving.