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South Sudan government says 30 political prisoners are released

A File Picture of Group of chained prisoners at prison compound in Bentiu on 14 August 2012 (ST)
August 121, 2017 (JUBA) - South Sudanese government released 30 political prisoners within the framework of an amnesty declared by President Salva Kiir announced the state television South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC).

In a gesture of good will aiming to encourage the opposition groups to join the national dialogue process, Kiir last May declared a general amnesty for the political prisoners.

In statements to the SSBC on Thursday evening Jalban Obaj, director of legal affairs at the Internal Security Bureau said that 30 opposition members including Justin Wanawila Bilal, a religious leader, have been released until now at different times since the declaration of the presidential amnesty.

Many of the released detainees have been arrested for their support of the former First Vice President Riek Machar ousted last year after bloody clashes in the capital in July 2016.

However, Press Secretary and official spokesperson of President Salva Kiir, Ateny Wek Ateny told reporters on Friday that the amnesty does not include prisoners like James Gatdet Dak, former Machar’s spokesperson who was deported last year from Kenya, who he said are accused of committing crimes against the state

Ateny said the amnesty will not apply to prisoners such as the James Gatdet Dak, former spokesman of rebel leader Riek Machar who was deported in November 2016 from Kenya.

"The national security cases are not discussed, and it will only be the courts of laws to decide," said the presidential spokesman.

He, however, insisted that the release of political opponents without preconditions demonstrate the resolve of President Kiir to end the four-year conflict.

South Sudanese government officials say they want the dialogue process to be inclusive but several opposition groups have shown some reserves to join it. President Kiir says the SPLM-IO loyal to the former first vice president can join the process without its leader Machar.

At the same time, the government forces stepped up attacks on the rebel SPLM-IO positions despite a declared unilateral cessation of hostilities in a bid to weaken the group and bring it to join the process instead of an IGAD proposed revitalization process or new talks as requested by the rebels.