Juba/Khartoum — South Sudan's government says it has completed investigating the 11 senior members of the country's ruling party, held since mid-December last year, on accusations of aiding an alleged coup attempt.
South Sudan SPLA soldiers stand in a vehicle in Juba December 20, 2013 (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
"The minister of justice has completed the investigation of the detainees and will this afternoon submit the report to the president for consideration," information Michael Makuei Lueth said in a statement broadcast by state-owned SSTV on Monday.
"The issue of these detainees has been a very big headache to us in the government", he added, without elaborating on the content of the reports.
The status of the 11 political detainees has been one of the main issues that have delayed peace talks between the South Sudanese government of Salva Kiir and rebels led by his former deputy, Riek Machar.
Despite mounting international pressure and the fact that their detention is in violation of South Sudan's transitional constitution, Juba has resolutely refused to release the politicians, many of whom were sacked in July last year and had become increasingly critical of Kiir's leadership.
Sudan Tribune was unable to reach the minister of justice or the office of the president despite several attempts to ask for comment on Monday.
All of those arrested, as well as those who have rebelled against the government, deny any coup attempt was planned or attempted on the evening of December 15 when fighting broke out between members of the Presidential Guard.
Following two days of severe fighting in the capital, commanders of the South Sudanese army (SPLA) defected in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.
In six weeks of conflict over half a million people have been displaced. Estimates on how many people have been killed vary from 1,000, given by the UN some weeks ago, and the figure of 10,000 estimated by the International Crisis Group - a research organisation.
Before a ceasefire deal was eventually signed on 23 January, Sudan analyst Aly Verjee wrote in relation to the issue of the detainees that there was a danger "that too much of the mediators' political capital is expended on a goal that is only a means to further negotiations, rather than an end in itself, and work towards a lasting settlement remains a lesser priority."
The detainees themselves told mediators from the East African regional bloc IGAD that their freedom should not stand in the way of a deal to end the fighting. Despite these assurance the rebels continued to demand their release as a precondition to signing a cessation of hostilities agreement up until the deal was eventually signed four days ago.
Initially there were 13 detainees, but Peter Adwok Nyaba and Deng Deng Akoon were released.
Those still is custody are: Deng Alor, former minister of cabinet affairs, Pagan Amum, former SPLM secretary general, Cirino Iteng, former minister of culture, Madut Biar Yel, former minister for telecommunication and postal services, Oyai Deng Ajak, former minister for national security in the office of the president, Majak D' Agoot, former deputy minister of defence, Chol Tong Magay, former governor of Lakes state Ezekiel Gatkuoth Lul, former ambassador to the United States, John Luk Jok, former justice minister, Kosti Manibe, former minister of finance, and Gier Chuang Aluong, former minister of roads and bridges.
DETAINEES TO FACE THE LAW
The legal adviser to President Kiir has hinted on the possible release of the political detainees, which he said, would be in accordance with the country's constitution.
"The recent agreement on cessation of hostilities was aimed at determining the position of the accused persons, but not to release them," Telar Riing Deng told reporters in Khartoum after he delivered a message President Kiir to his Sudanese counterpart Omer al-Bashir.
"Anyone who commits a crime shall be punished according to the law," he stressed, but reiterated South Sudan government's commitment to the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa Thursday.