William Endley. Picture: REUTERS/SAMIR BOL
William Endley. Picture: REUTERS/SAMIR BOL

Juba — On Friday, South Sudan released rebel leader Riek Machar’s spokesperson, and South African adviser William Endley, from prison, a Reuters witness says.

To reinforce a peace deal signed in September, on Wednesday, President Salva Kiir ordered the release of retired colonel Endley, an adviser to Machar, and James Gatdet, Machar’s spokesperson.

The Reuters witness at the prison where they were held saw the two being asked to put on their civilian clothes after being brought out of their cell. 

Ahead of the release, the two had expressed excitement at their impending freedom.

“The day looks promising since am going to be free today after two years in the detention and I hope to see peace in South Sudan,” Gatdet told Reuters from his jail cell, seated next to Endley.

“After two years and two months. It is finally a few minutes to go and also very happy today for the signed peace for the Republic of South Sudan,” Endley said.

It was the first time Endley and Gatdet had spoken to journalists since February.

Machar returned to the capital Juba on Wednesday.

He fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 after fighting broke out again in the capital, wrecking an earlier peace deal.

He later travelled to SA, where he was held under house arrest until earlier this year.

Under pressure from governments in East Africa and from UN and western donors, Machar’s group, other rebel factions and the government in Ocoober signed a peace deal, under which he will again become vice-president.

“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.”

Endley was sentenced to death in February in South Sudan for attempting to overthrow the government. He was hired in 2016 to advise Machar on the planned integration of rebel forces into the national army under the then peace deal.

Weeks after the peace agreement collapsed during days of heavy fighting that rocked the capital in July 2016, Endley was arrested. He was charged along with rebel group spokesperson Dak, who was sentenced to death by the same court on February 12 for treason.

South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011, but a little more than two years later, civil war broke out over a dispute between Machar and President Salva Kiir.

Tens of thousands have since died while 4-million people have been forced from their homes as successive peace talks have failed.

Reuters, AFP