JUBA (Reuters) – South Sudan freed five political detainees and prisoners of war on Thursday, although none appeared to be senior rebel officials, a category of captive whose release is required by a peace deal signed last month.
South Sudan plunged into war two years after independence from Sudan in 2011 when a dispute between Kiir and then vice-president Riek Machar erupted into armed confrontation. More than 50,000 people have been killed in the violence, and more than two million have been forced to flee their homes.
On Thursday in Juba, a National Security official who did not give his name told reporters that the release of the prisoners was in line with the peace deal signed in September in the Ethiopian capital.
However, according to a Reuters witness, the five men who were freed did not appear to be among the senior members of the main rebel faction led by Riek Machar, formerly the vice president of South Sudan. Under the peace deal signed by the government and several rebel factions, senior officials of those factions should be released.
There has been significant confusion recently over the fate of detainees, though the issue has long been a sticking point in successive peace deals that have failed to end the war.
Some of the men who are still detained by the Juba government have been sentenced to death, including Machar’s former spokesman James Gatdek Dak.
On Oct. 1 the president’s spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, told local broadcaster Radio Tamazuj that all political detainees had been released, under the terms of a separate agreement.
Less than a week later, prisoners at the national security agency’s main detentions centre, known locally as “Blue House”, disarmed guards and seized control of part of the centre. A detainee told Reuters the inmates taking action were political prisoners seeking freedom.
(Reporting by Denis Dumo, Writing by Maggie Fick, Editing by William Maclean)