South Sudan: Nyaba tells of Juba 'house arrest'

South Sudanese people walk along a street in capital Juba December 16, 201 The South Sudanese capital Juba appears fairly calm, despite the political turbulence

"It's like house arrest," said Peter Adwok Nyaba, as he ushered me into his smart two-storey home on a dusty track on the edge of South Sudan's capital, Juba.

In a ramshackle city that appears fairly calm and busy right now, Mr Nyaba presents a vivid picture of the political intrigue and tensions that still lurk beneath the surface.

Start Quote

The SPLM has always been a military organisation. No discussion, no debate”

End Quote Peter Adwok Nyaba SPLM politician

"I was arrested on Christmas day," said the former minister of higher education, who lost one leg to a bullet in 1989 during Sudan's long civil war.

He was suspected of being part of the alleged coup plot, which President Salva Kiir insists was the trigger for South Sudan's current crisis.

"There was no coup attempt," said Mr Nyaba, insisting it was "a cover story" concocted by President Kiir to give him an excuse to round his political adversaries.

"Now they are caught up in a lie they can't defend," he said.

This is provocative, perhaps even dangerous, talk in a city where 11 prominent political figures from a faction of the governing SPLM party remain in custody.

Mr Nyaba was released after two days and later briefly detained at the airport when he tried to board a flight out of the country. His passport has been confiscated.

SPLA soldiers stand in a vehicle in Juba December 20, 2013 Will the South Sudanese government feel tempted to intensify its military campaign after re-taking Bentiu?

While I was visiting him, two European Union diplomats arrived to check on his safety.

Start Quote

If this carries on it will drag in others who are not satisfied with the system - so it becomes a wider war of all against all”

End Quote Peter Adwok Nyaba SPLM politician

There had been shooting in the neighbourhood a few nights earlier, reportedly when security forces attempted to arrest a prominent general allegedly linked to the "coup".

Mr Nyaba has been an outspoken critic of his own SPLM party for some time: He says it failed to transform following the end of the long war with the north, and South Sudan's independence.

"The SPLM has always been a military organisation. No discussion, no debateā€¦ You have to obey orders. But after the war, it must adopt democratic means of resolving things," he said.

"This was not the case. That is why the president was unable to think of any other way apart from the military for resolving things - just as a soldier."

'Ceasefire essential'

The fate of the 11 detainees in Juba has become a sticking point in peace negotiations, with the rebels demanding their immediate release.

However Mr Nyaba and other sources in Juba have confirmed that the detainees themselves want a ceasefire to be agreed without preconditions.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir sits in his office in capital Juba December 16, 2013 President Salva Kiir believes the current crisis was triggered by a coup plot

Mr Nyaba said that an immediate ceasefire was essential.

"It's a political issue that needs to be resolved, and then the ethnic dimension will disappear," he said, referring to the growing conflict between South Sudan's biggest ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka.

But what if the government, encouraged by its military success in capturing the key oil town of Bentiu, now feels tempted to intensify its campaign rather than seek a negotiated settlement?

Mr Nyaba said he feared South Sudan could collapse into total anarchy.

"It is a real risk, especially if the government insists on defeating the forces of [rebel leader] Riek [Machar]," he said.

"If this carries on it will drag in others who are not satisfied with the system - so it becomes a wider war of all against all."

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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