Africa

South Sudan's Pagun Amum treason trial starts

Pagan Amum in Khartoum, Sudan on 2 December 2012 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pagan Amum was once a staunch ally of the president

Four top South Sudanese politicians have gone on trial on charges of treason after being accused of plotting a coup against the government.

This was their first court appearance since their arrest in December, when a rebellion that has killed thousands of people broke out in South Sudan.

The accused held senior posts in the governing party before falling out with President Salva Kiir.

They have not yet pleaded to the charges read out in court.

'Audio recordings'

However, they have previously denied the charges - which carry the maximum sentence of death.

The four are:

  • Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)
  • Oyai Deng Ajak, former national security minister
  • Majak D'Agoot, former deputy defence minister
  • Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, former ambassador to the US.

They were smartly dressed in suits - not prison uniforms - when they appeared in court in the capital, Juba, says journalist Mading Ngor, who was there.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The conflict has triggered a grave humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes

Heavily armed soldiers were in court and the public gallery was packed as dozens of people turned up to follow the trial, he says.

The accused smiled from time to time, and seemed to be in good health, he adds.

The prosecution said it had audio recordings to support its case against them.

In addition to the treason charge, they are accused of inciting the army and fuelling an insurgency in South Sudan, the world's newest state which became independent in 2011.

Conflict first broke out in Juba on 15 December between troops loyal to Mr Kiir and those allied with his sacked deputy, Riek Machar.

It later spread to other parts of South Sudan, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

Eleven ex-officials were arrested in December, but seven of them were later released.

Mr Machar, who denied any coup plot, fled Juba. He then launched a rebellion against the government.

The two sides signed a ceasefire agreement on January 23, but sporadic fighting has continued.

The release of the prisoners has been a key demand of the rebels, but the government has insisted that they should be put on trial for the alleged coup plot.

Image caption Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
Image caption Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Image caption Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north.
Image caption The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Image caption After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Image caption Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however, this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. Overall, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade.
Image caption Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight. This compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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