S.Sudan opposition chiefs ordered to join treason trial
13 March 2014, 08:14
Juba - South Sudanese judges Wednesday ordered seven opposition leaders to return to face trial for treason, alongside four allies whose trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the president has already begun.
The seven leaders, arrested after fighting broke out in December 15 and including the powerful former justice minister John Luk Jok, were released last month in Kenya.
James Halal on a panel of five judges ordered the seven to "appear in this court" at the next hearing scheduled for March 19, where they are expected to face the same charges as those whose trial opened on Tuesday.
South Sudan's government has been at war with rebel groups since mid-December when a clash between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to sacked vice president Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting across the world's newest nation.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict.
The four on trial in Juba are Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling party, ex-national security minister Oyai Deng Ajak, former ambassador to the United States Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, and ex-deputy defence minister Majak D'Agoot.
The four were read 11 charges, including the main charge of treason, as well as insulting the president.
So far, they have spoken only to confirm their names, but have in the past denied all charges.
Their lawyers said they were preparing their case, but had as yet little information as to what around a dozen witnesses for the prosecution would say.
"We shall develop defence witnesses depending on how the prosecution presents their case," chief defence lawyer Malual Alor told AFP.
The release of all the prisoners has been a key demand of the rebels.
The two sides signed a ceasefire agreement on January 23, but heavy fighting has continued.
The African Union on Wednesday opened a commission of inquiry into atrocities carried out in the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.