S Sudan hands rebel detainees to Kenya

Nairobi - South Sudan released seven of the 11 key leaders held after an alleged coup bid last month, Kenya's presidency said Wednesday as Nairobi accepted to host the group.

The seven men appeared in apparent good health at a press conference hosted by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in the capital Nairobi.

SPLA soldiers stand as a helicopter is seen after flying a trip to Bor, at Juba airport, South Sudan on January 25, 2014. Picture: Andreea Campeanu. Credit: Reuters

John Luk Jok, a former justice minister, spoke on behalf of those released.

“We don't feel bitter, we only feel sad that the crisis in our country is happening just after our independence,” he said.

“We don't see our president as our enemy,” he added.

The release of all the prisoners has been a key demand of the rebels.

Four leaders remain in custody in South Sudan, facing trial for attempting to topple President Salva Kiir after fighting broke out in the capital Juba on December 15.

Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar and other former officials of fomenting a coup against his government

Eleven ex-officials were arrested, while Machar Ä who denied any coup plot Ä fled, leading a loose coalition of rebel fighters. Fighting quickly spread across the country.

Both sides implemented a ceasefire last Friday, but combat has only eased, not ended, with reports of continuing clashes and a worsening humanitarian crisis that has left thousands dead and forced almost 800,000 to flee their homes.

Their release comes a day after South Sudanese Justice Minister Paulino Wanawila said that the four men in detention will face trial while three others, including Machar, will face justice if caught.

Kenya's foreign ministry said it was “still negotiating for the release of the remaining four.”

The four remaining in detention are: Pagan Amum, former secretary general of the ruling party, ex-national security minister Oyai Deng Ajak, former ambassador to the US Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, and ex-deputy defence minister Majak D'Agoot.