South Sudanese authorities arrested and beat seven members of the only party running a candidate against the region’s president in April, a senior party member said.
South Sudan’s semi-autonomous government’s democratic credentials will be scrutinised in April’s first multi-party presidential and legislative elections in 24 years especially as many believe southerners will vote to secede in a January 2011 referendum, creating Africa’s newest nation state.
“They arrested nine people, including two journalists, and beat them up,” said Charles Kisanga, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) Secretary General, adding that they were released after 90 minutes.
The SPLM-DC, headed by former foreign minister Lam Akol, split last year from the mainstream SPLM which dominates 80 % of the southern government.
The SPLM accuses Akol of being a cover for former northern foes the National Congress Party and of having an armed militia, which Akol denies. Akol has expressed open support for NCP presidential candidate, incumbent Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
The elections and referendum are benchmarks of a 2005 north-south peace deal ending 22 years of civil war, which claimed two million lives and destabilized the region.
When Akol and his team flew into Wau in south Sudan, they were kept on their plane for an hour as local security agents wanted to disarm Akol’s bodyguards, Kisanga said.
“Then the security organs of the state aligned to the SPLM said they wanted to arrest us saying we came without prior information,” Kisanga said.
The SPLM’s deputy secretary general, Anne Itto, told journalists earlier this week that she had not heard about the Wau arrests or any other arrests in the south during her trips with South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s campaign team.
Most analysts say that Akol is unlikely to win but that he may pull some voters, tired of graft in the post-war government.
Agents from the SPLM-DC have been arrested before in several places in the south, including Western Bahr el Ghazal district where Sunday’s arrests took place. In one case four party agents were jailed for several months.
Independent candidates Anglina Teny in Unity State and Joseph Bakosoro in Western Equatoria have also complained that their supporters have been arrested and stopped from travelling