JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — A treason trial against four senior South Sudan leaders opened Tuesday, as a court heard allegations the four helped plot a coup to topple President Salva Kiir.
The trial comes three months after massive violence broke out across South Sudan. Kiir has said the violence began as a coup attempt; leaders who are now in opposition to the president deny that. Regardless of the spark, the violence has killed thousands of peoples and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Streets around the Supreme Court in Juba were locked down by heavily armed soldiers and police who brought the men to court to face a five-judge panel on 11 charges, including insulting the president and treason.
Prosecutor James Mayen told the court that the four men — as well as Riek Machar, the former vice president and leader of opposition military forces fighting the government — began agitating for a coup when holding a political meeting early in December and when publishing an anti-government press release that made baseless corruption allegations.
"There was a plan to overthrow the government of South Sudan," he said. The four all denied the allegation. Machar has also denied it.
The fighting that broke out Dec. 15 among presidential guards quickly spread across the country. The violence quickly took on ethnic dimensions between the dominant Dinka tribe who support Kiir and the Nuer tribe loyal to Machar.
The four defendants are Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling political party; Oyai Deng Ajak, former national security minister; Ezekial Lol, former ambassador to the U.S.; and Majak D'Agoot, former deputy defense minister. Seven other leaders arrested at the same time were previously sent to Kenya.
Meanwhile, the U.N. commander of Ghanaian troops in South Sudan, Maj. Gen. Delali Johnson Sakyi, said Tuesday that weapons discovered inside of U.N. trucks last week were being shipped to his Ghanaian troops. Sakyi also said that no land mines were in the weapons shipment.
"Let me also add that the pictures that have been circulating on the Internet, claiming that land mines are among the cargo, are not correct. The pictures are showing canisters for masks or respirators," he said in a statement.
The intercepted shipment of weapons fueled rumors in the capital among government supporters that the weapons were being sent to Machar's rebel troops. Sakyi called the weapons shipping error "highly regrettable."
Sakyi labeled it "unfortunate" that despite a U.N. policy to ship all weapons and ammunition by air that "a packing error" resulted in several containers of weapons and ammunition being shipped by road.