South Sudan court frees four top leaders accused of treason

Friday 25 April 2014 20.03
President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir
President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir

South Sudan has released four top leaders accused of rebellion and treason, dropping charges for attempting to overthrow the government in a move aimed at ending a four-month-old civil war.

The court order said the men were released "in order to promote peace and reconciliation among our people".

An AFP reporter at the court said the four men were greeted by cheering supporters, who lifted them up onto their shoulders into the crowd.

The detention of the four had been a major sticking point in peace talks, and the gesture comes as the leaders on both sides of the conflict face the threat of UN sanctions amid worsening violence and atrocities.

The four are Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling party, ex-national security minister Oyai Deng Ajak, former ambassador to the US Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, and ex-deputy defence minister Majak D'Agoot.

The four leaders were arrested in Juba after fighting broke out between members of the presidential guard.

The fighting rapidly escalated into all-out war between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and defectors and ethnic militia loyal to sacked vice president Riek Machar.

Mr Kiir accused Mr Machar and his allies of attempting a coup, and initially 11 of his loyalists were put on trial.

Mr Machar denied the allegation, and in turn has branded Mr Kiir a "genocidal leader" who started the war by carrying out a purge.

Charges remain against Machar, who fled the capital and is leading the rebellion, as well as other two key rebels, former governor of the oil-rich Unity state Taban Deng, and ex-minister Alfred Ladu Gore.

However, charges were also dropped against seven leaders who were arrested shortly after fighting broke out but released in January into the care of neighbouring Kenya.