World Bulletin / News Desk
A special five-judge tribunal set up to try former South Sudanese officials and politicians on multiple charges – including that of high treason in connection with what the government describes as last December's "coup attempt" – resumed in Juba on Thursday, despite the absence of seven defendants now in Kenya.
Prosecutor Mayen Oka told the court that the Foreign Affairs Ministry was still working with Kenyan authorities to produce the seven other defendants, demanding postponement.
But the defense team refused the suggestion to suspend proceedings until the seven could appear in court.
"Considering that the prosecution has raised uniform charges against those present and those absent and given that the released were bailed out in unclear status, the prosecution has committed a technical mistake," Monyluak Alor, the head of the defense team, told the court.
"We, therefore, request the court to set aside the case of the seven and proceed with the trial of the four who are present," he added.
After a five-minute adjournment, the panel of judges headed by Justice James Alala Deng turned down the prosecution's request and upheld a request by the defense for the court to proceed with the four defendants.
Trial proceedings were adjourned to Friday.
The four defendants include Pagan Amum Okech, former secretary-general of the ruling South Sudan Liberation Movement; former security minister Oyai Deng Ajak; former deputy defense minister Majak D'Agoot; and former ambassador to the U.S. Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth.
They appeared in court for the first time on February 13 to answer multiple charges, including that of high treason.
Last December, President Salva Kiir accused his sacked vice president, Riek Machar, of attempting to stage a coup.
Eleven senior officials and ruling party leaders were consequently rounded up and charged with conspiracy.
Seven have since been released into the custody of the Kenyan president with a view to facilitating ongoing peace talks.
Following a month-long, IGAD-sponsored first round of talks in Addis Ababa, the warring rivals signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in January.
No plans to form S. Sudan interim govt
The South Sudanese government on Thursday denied that it had plans to form an interim government.
Speaking at a press conference, Ateny Wek Ateny, President Salva Kiir's press secretary, stressed that the South Sudanese leader had not agreed to form an interim government.
Rather, Ateny said, Kiir had decided to form a broad-based national government to include all political parties while excluding rebels loyal to sacked vice-president Riek Machar.
"That is why the recent increase of the ministries occurred, bringing the number of the ministries to 27," he added.
He said that Kiir had met with party leaders to discuss the formation of the broad-based government, adding that the new cabinet line-up would soon be unveiled.
"The austerity measure will soon be something of the past because things will be normal," the spokesman said.
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when Kiir accused Machar of standing behind a failed coup attempt.
The violence has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The U.N. estimates that some 3.7 million South Sudanese are now "severely food insecure," while more than 867,000 have been displaced by the violence.
Following a month-long first round of talks in the Ethiopian capital, the two sides signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in January.
Ateny said that his government was committed to following through with peace talks, sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
He, however, said the government will resume the talks when Juba receives a "positive" clarification on the issue of seven SPLM leaders, who were recently released by the government.
"Government said the G7 should be left out of the negotiation because they are still suspects and they are former members of the SPLM," Ateny said.
Last week, the Juba government issued a statement criticizing the presence of the seven former detainees at the talks, arguing that their presence sabotages the talks aimed at resolving the South Sudanese crisis.
Ateny pointed that the presence of the former detainees at the talks as a third party are unwelcomed by the Juba government.
"We know that it is the government and the rebel group of Dr. Riek who are the only parties to be in the negotiation, but the IGAD wants to include the 7 members of the SPLM," Ateny said.
The spokesman said that the government has asked for the former detainees to be returned to Juba to testify at court.
"That is why during the recent IGAD summit, President Salva Kiir argued the exclusion of the G7 from the negotiation to resume simply because they are not fighting the government but rather they are suspects only," he said.Last Mod: 21 Mart 2014, 11:00