South Sudan: Dismissing Coup Attempt Claim, U.S. "Disappointed" Kiir Hasn't Yet Released Machar's Allies
A top detainee is the brilliant negotiator Pagan Amum Okech; SPLM Secretary General
Pressure Mounts On Kiir To Free Detained Machar Allies
For the third day in a row the Obama administration has called on South Sudan President Salva Kiir to release allies of former Vice President Riek Machar from detention and the top spokesperson at the State Department for the first time said Washington was "disappointed" the politicians were still locked up.
The U.S. wants the detainees released even before fighting stops.
Separately, in answering questions after testimony Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa said the U.S. doesn't believe there was an attempted coup as President kiir had asserted; Machar previously said Kiir wanted to grab absolute power pre-emptively, sparking the violence that erupted December 15.
Kiir is Dinka and Machar Nuer; the power struggle between the two has caused targeted killings between Dinkas and Nuers.
When a reporter asked during The Department of State's daily news briefing Thursday about President Kiir's contention that Machar's allies were implicated in a coup plot, the spokesperson, Jen Psaki, ignored Juba's argument and said: "We’re continuing to press that we believe that these detainees should be released as quickly as possible. We’re disappointed that they have not been released. "
Peace Talks in Ethiopia between Kiir's delegation and Machar's have stalled over the former vice president's and now the U.S.'s demand that the 11 detainees be freed.
One of Machar's top allies is Pagan Amum Okech, a brilliant negotiator who helped resolve the dispute over oil exports transit fees with Sudan (Khartoum) that had halted all flows; an ethnic Shilluk, he is the Secretary General of the ruling SPLM who was suspended by Kiir.
Key Dinkas such as Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior Garang, widow of South Sudan founding father, the late John Garang De Mabior, and Mabior Garang, the son, also blame kiir for undermining democracy in South Sudan.
Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, also said that "the release of the detainees should be a precondition for a halt to the fighting, which I think is a really important point. And the role that they could play is, some of them would be participating in the negotiations, and that’s the importance – one of the important components of their release."
Psaki added: "So we’re continuing to press that on the ground. The talks are ongoing. The mediators returned from Juba last night. Special Envoy Booth met with them last night, and they also were able to see the detainees. They reported that the detainees are in good health and continue to be willing to participate in a political dialogue."
The reference was to Obama's envoy Donald E. Booth.
When a reporter asked: "Are you coming down more on the side of the former Vice President Machar by calling for the release of these detainees? There was a statement from Linda Thomas-Greenfield today that the United States has no evidence that there was a coup attempt. It would seem to suggest that you might be supporting more the side of the former vice president than the side of the president."
Psaki responded that "it’s not from the United States – it’s not an effort on behalf the – by the United States to take one side. Our goal here is not where this started – to focus on where this started, but where it’s going to end. And the important piece here is the one I just touched on, which is that these detainees could play a role in the discussions and negotiations, and what we’re trying to do here is get to a point where there’s an end to the violence and the hostilities."
The reporter was referring to the Senate testimony Thursday of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. Thomas-Greenfield was quoted saying "we have not seen any evidence that this was a coup attempt."
Thomas-Greenfield also said "the roots of this conflict are much deeper, and resolution can only come through immediate dialogue between the two sides and an inclusive reconciliation."
She also said, "In addition to calling for an end to the violence, humanitarian access, dialogue, and the release of political prisoners in Juba, the United States is exploring the possibility of appropriate pressures against individuals on both sides who interfere with the peace and reconciliation process in South Sudan or are responsible for serious human rights abuses."