South Sudan frees Machar’s associates from prison

The South Sudanese government has freed two associates of rebel leader Riek Machar from prison, the latest development in the country’s quest for lasting peace.

The two – retired South African colonel William Endley, an adviser to Machar, and James Gatdet, Machar’s spokesman – were released on Friday. They had both been sentenced to death.

President Salva Kiir ordered their release on Wednesday, during a peace celebration held in the capital Juba.

“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 the paperwork confirming their release.

South Sudan has been at war since December 2013, sparked by a feud between President Kiir and his then-deputy Machar.

Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup against his rule, allegations the latter denied but then went on to mobilize a rebel force to fight the government.

The conflict has killed more than 300,000 people, also forcing millions of others to flee their homes.

The United Nations ranks South Sudan as Africa’s biggest refugee crisis, coming third worldwide after Syria and Afghanistan.

In the lasest signed peace agreement, Machar will take up the position of vice president in a unity government headed by President Kiir.