By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan on Friday freed rebel leader Riek Machar’s former spokesperson and adviser, aiming to strength the revitalized peace deal to end almost five years of civil war.
On peace celebration day, President Salva Kiir on Wednesday ordered the release of retired South African colonel William Endley, an adviser to Machar, and James Gatdet Dak, Machar’s spokesman, in an attempt to reinforce the deal signed on September 12 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The two men were recently sentenced to death by hanging as a gesture for goodwill and readiness to implement the new peace accord, they were freed.
Endley was sentenced to death in February for trying to bring down the government, while Gatdet was sentenced to death in the same month on charges of treason and incitement against the government. Gatdet was summarily extradited from Kenya and handed over to Juba, exactly two years ago, on 2nd November 2016.
At the prison where Endley and Gatdet were held for a year, seeing the two guys being asked to go and put on their civilian clothes after being brought out of their cell.
“We are here to implement the orders of the president. Their release comes as part of the peace process. They are now free,” Interior Minister Michael Chiangjiek said after signing paperwork confirming their release. “Gatdet will be going to Khartoum and William John will be going to South Africa.”
East Africa’s youngest nation returned into conflict in 2013, just two years of her independence from Sudan after Kiir sacked his longest –served Dr. Machar as vice president.
The power struggling war, saw a troops loyal to both leaders clashed for all past five years, which eventually shutting down oil fields and forcing millions of people to fled their homes, while hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in fighting or died as a result of war, damage to health facilities or lack of food.
However, ahead of the release, the opposition leader Machar’s associates had expressed excitement at their looming freedom.
Gatdet described the day as looks promising since he is releasing today after two years in the detention, adding that he hopes to see peace in South Sudan.
“I want to express my happiness that I am free again after 2 years in detention and in prison. Accidentally, I think this the same day I was arrested in Nairobi on 2 November 2016 and today is 2 of November 2018,” Gatdet said.
Gatdet, further thanked President Kiir for ordering his release said he is happy now he will see his family. “I want to thank his Excellency the president for ordering my release; I am very happy that this will enable to reunite with family members and my friends after a long period.”
For his part, the South African retired army colonel, William Endley, was also sentenced to death by hanging for his alleged role in supporting Opposition during the civil war, thanked the president and the entire Prison Service staffs including prisoners for the time spent in Juba Central Prison.
“I would like to firstly also thank President Salva Kiir, I also like to thank the minister for his time to be here today. And for everybody inside the Juba Central prison, the prison services and the approaches towards myself and to James Gadet,” Endley said.
The men were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“The pardoning of Gatdet and Endley comes as a relief to all who cherish human rights and abhor the death penalty, but more needs to be done,” Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Joan Nyanyuki, said in a statement. “The South Sudanese authorities must commute all death sentences and get on the right side of history by abolishing this ultimate cruel form of punishment,” it added.
Dr. Machar, the leader of the country’s biggest coalition of rebel fighters, SPLM-IO returned to Juba for the first time since 2016 to take part in a peace ceremony. He fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace deal collapsed. He later traveled to South Africa, where he was held under house arrest until mid this year, where his house arrest was exclusion.
President Kiir, Machar signed the revitalized peace deal a months ago under a stick and carrot pressure from the IGAD, and from United Nations and Western donors, which designate Machar as a first vice president.
Machar returned to Khartoum after peace celebration, is due to return in about May 2019 to assume his role as a first vice president, according to the accord.