Salva Kiir
Salva Kiir

Juba — President Salva Kiir granted a general amnesty to rebels in South Sudan’s civil war including his former deputy Riek Machar, as a rights organisation said the authorities in Africa’s youngest country should also free its unarmed critics.

The amnesty order was read out on state-run television late on Wednesday, three days after Kiir, SPLM-IO leader Machar and the heads of other groups signed a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

A political row between Kiir and Machar degenerated in 2013 into a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people, forced a quarter of the population to flee their homes and wrecked the country’s oil-dependent economy.

The conflict has often been fought along ethnic lines. Previous deals to end it have failed, including one in 2015 that briefly halted hostilities but fell apart after Machar returned to the capital, Juba, the following year. SPLM-IO is the largest of the rebel groups fighting Kiir’s government, and fighters allied to it control several areas close to the capital. Other antigovernment groups have also emerged, some of which have fought against each other.

All conditions

Lam Paul Gabriel, SPLM-IO’s deputy military spokesman, said the amnesty would only be genuine once Kiir observed all the conditions agreed upon in the deal signed on Sunday.

"Machar can only come to Juba after the pre-interim period when the unified forces are deployed in Juba and other major towns in South Sudan."

Machar was freed earlier in 2018 from house arrest in SA, where he had been held since fleeing South Sudan in 2016.

"It will now give Machar much confidence, including others [who are] estranged, a genuine reason to return to the country without the fear of the replication of the 2016 incident," Majak Daniel, a Juba-based journalist, told Reuters.

Human Rights Watch called on Thursday for the release of a number of government critics jailed by the intelligence services, including Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent economist who has criticised both sides in the war.

"South Sudanese authorities should release everyone being held arbitrarily and change the way that the national security agency operates," Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at the New York-based rights organisation, said.

Ajak, a country director for the London School of Economics’ International Growth Centre and a former World Bank economist, was arrested by officers of the security agency in July.