Juba — A key witness in the special court trial of four South Sudanese officials accused of treason has withdrawn from the case, the presiding judge announced Tuesday.
The country's interior minister, Aleu Ayieny Aleu who was previously declared a prosecution witness in the case notified court on Tuesday of his decision to pull-out highlighting the challenges with which the government was grappling to substantiate claims of attempted failed coup against President Salva Kiir's regime.
Court has also given the government up to Friday April 11 to produce its four remaining witnesses less they will be disregarded from the treason trial.
The case of the four detained South Sudanese officials continued last week with more prosecution witnesses providing evidence linking the accused to an alleged coup plot in mid-December, which the government has blamed for triggering violence across the country.
The four politicians, who include the former secretary-general of the country's ruling party (SPLM), Pagan Amum, as well as former ministers Majak D'Agot and Oyai Deng Ajak and former envoy to the United States Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth, have been charged with treason. They deny the charges.
The four are allies of the country's former vice-president turned rebel leader, Riek Machar, who has been charged in absentia.
A week ago, Maj. Gen. Mach Paul Kuol, the director of military intelligence, became the fifth witness to testify in court.
In his testimony, Gen. Mach said he became "concerned" when former Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai allegedly called him on 13 December 2013 - two days before fighting erupted in the military barracks in the capital, Juba, to inquire about the arrest of a junior officer.
According to Gen. Mach, the sergeant had attempted to snatch the keys to the military armoury on 12 December, but was subsequently arrested and questioned about his behaviour.
"I told him (Gai) that the soldier was arrested on administrative issues connected with his work," he said, adding that he had convened a meeting of intelligence chiefs a day later.
"I briefed them that there is something unusual," he said in reference to the phone call.
The director military intelligence further claimed the press release issued by opposition politicians on 6 December, who included the four now before the court, had "instigated" the army.
"The press statement overstepped what was a political party issue and threat[ened] national security," he told the court hearing.
However, when questioned by defence lawyers if the four politicians being tried played any role in organising the mid-December violence, he replied "No".