Kuel Aguer Kuel, former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal and member of PCAA (Photo: Eye Radio)

Kuel Aguer: I have forgiven those who detained me

Kuel Aguer Kuel, a former detainee and now key participant in the Nairobi peace talks, says he has forgiven anyone involved in his detention in Juba without clear charges.

Kuel Aguer Kuel, a former detainee and now key participant in the Nairobi peace talks, says he has forgiven anyone involved in his detention in Juba without clear charges.

In part 1 of an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Kuel, a former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and a leading member of the rights movement People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) shed light on his role in the negotiations, his personal health struggles, and the circumstances of his detention by the National Security Service (NSS) for 17 months without charges.

He also emphasized the importance of prioritizing national interests over individual or group ambitions to achieve lasting peace and stability in South Sudan.

Below are edited excerpts:

Question: Former governor Kuel, we understand that you are currently at the negotiation venue in Nairobi. What is your role in the peace talks?

Answer: First of all, I arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday evening, and the following day, nothing was happening. But Thursday was my first participation in a general meeting, as there are also individual meetings with different groups.

As an organization, our role is to promote peace, security, and stability in our country. We have no intention of seeking government positions or participating in resource sharing. This is not our aim.

We are deeply concerned about the future of our country due to the lack of political, security, and economic stability. We believe the only solution is a political resolution and the reorganization of the security sector to ensure the country’s safety. This will create an opportunity to achieve economic stability.

Our objective is to facilitate a smooth transition from war to peace, security, and stability. Our people have suffered enough and continue to suffer. Since 2013, we have lost about half a million people due to war and related incidents. We want to end the bloodshed, killing, and suffering. We urge all parties to resolve our problems through dialogue, not violence or war.

We want our country to move from a stage of war and power-sharing among warring parties to a stage where power is returned to the people, allowing them to decide and choose who governs the country. This is our main objective in these negotiations.

Q: How do you evaluate the current atmosphere at the talks? Do you think it will lead to what you aim to achieve?

A: If we prioritize our country’s interests over individual or group interests, we can reach a suitable solution to our political problems and secure a bright future for South Sudan. However, individual or group interests can obstruct progress, as seen in the 11 years of conflict. We need to focus on stability, unity, and nation-building, feeling like one nation with a shared future where everyone can prosper.

As the PCCA, we never called for regime change in Juba. Instead, we advised the government and recommended actions to stabilize the country. We hoped the government would listen and improve its administration.

If the government refuses to listen to the people and change its ways, we must ask them to hand over power so the people can choose their leaders. The government serves on behalf of the South Sudanese people, who have the right to demand that power be returned to them. This shouldn’t cause conflict between the government and the people. We are puzzled why this creates problems.

We need a government that listens to its people. Not everyone can be a ruler or a minister, but the 12 million citizens can choose who addresses their problems, provides basic services, and restores the economy. We need to feel secure, happy, and like true citizens in our own country.

Q: Who invited you to participate in the talks? Was it the government or the mediation team?

A: I was invited by the mediation team. The government delegated the Kenyan government to engage with holdout groups that did not sign the revitalized peace agreement. We reached out to the mediation team and requested to be part of the process to balance the parties. While many groups are after power, we prioritize the country’s interests.

We contacted the mediation team and asked to be included because we represent the people as stakeholders. As an active civil society organization, along with religious leaders and academia, we seek the stability of South Sudan. Our demand was accepted, and we were invited to the peace negotiations. Before leaving Juba, I received a personal invitation from Chief Mediator General Lazarus Sumbeiywo to join the talks. That’s why I am here. Although this process began long ago, I only joined once officially invited to help find a solution for our country’s problems.

Q: Was the government in Juba aware that you were invited to go to Nairobi? And how did they react to it?

A: After receiving the invitation, I needed a temporary travel document because I don’t have my passport with me. Three months ago, I was informed that I could travel anywhere I wanted.

As a routine procedure, I tried to contact someone I know in the military, who used to be in national security, but he didn’t answer my call. I then called another senior officer to inform him about the invitation and my plans to travel to Nairobi, but his phone was off.

So, I decided to go to the airport as a normal citizen, completed all the procedures, and boarded the plane. I don’t need anyone’s permission to travel. According to Article 27, Section 2 of the constitution, any South Sudanese citizen can leave and return to the country without needing permission. This is a constitutional right, allowing me to travel freely without intimidation.

Q: Shortly after the court’s verdict, you refused to apologize to the government. Now that you are participating in peace talks in Nairobi, is it the right time to apologize to the government?

A:I can’t apologize because I didn’t do anything wrong. The court found me not guilty of any crime. Why should I apologize? An apology is warranted when someone commits a wrongdoing or crime. None of the charges against me were proven. As a South Sudanese citizen, I have the right to freely express my views on matters concerning my country. Since the court found me not guilty, I see no reason to apologize.

On my part, I have forgiven anyone involved in my detention for nearly 17 months without cause. During this time, I fell ill, and the doctor recommended further treatment outside the country, which was denied. This led to the issue of the apology.

I told them I cannot apologize because I did nothing wrong. If it’s about death, I am ready to face it like anyone else. So, I don’t see any reason for this apology.

Even after my release, no government official approached me to say I had done something that upset the president or the government. I made several attempts to meet with them, but none agreed to see me during that over one year period.

Previously, I tried to travel abroad for further medical treatment, but they refused and confiscated my passport. That is why I am traveling now with a temporary document. It wasn’t difficult to go to the immigration department and process a new passport. If it was lost, they should inform me so I could follow the routine procedure for a lost passport. My details are still in the system.

I don’t see any reason to apologize. I did nothing wrong. My personal freedom and basic rights were violated for 17 months, and I was denied the right to seek medical treatment.

The right to life is enshrined in the Constitution. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure I can seek medical attention to live. If the government refuses, it violates my rights. So, it is the government that should apologize to me, having been proven not guilty by the court.

Q: How is your health now?

A: My health is not bad. I am managing my condition, but I still need further treatment. I received a referral document on March 10th, 2021, before I was imprisoned. I went to Khartoum for an operation but couldn’t proceed due to personal and financial reasons. I returned to Juba to seek resources. The condition still requires surgical intervention. I am living with it and thank God for His protection.

Q: Can you share with the people of South Sudan the circumstances of your detention, the conditions there, and whom you met?

A: On that day, I was refuelling my car at a petrol station in Juba when individuals from national security approached, blocked my car, and took me to their headquarters. After a brief period, I was transferred to a detention facility where I was given a bed and mattress.

They didn’t torture me, and my family provided food. I spent 11 days there without any investigation. Then, they moved me to a police station, and after an investigation, I was sent to the central prison.

After two days at Juba Central Prison, they interrogated me, collected all documents from the national security office, and sent them to Khartoum for verification. This process took about 15 months. No one tortured or abused me, but I was sick and spent a month in the hospital.

Q: During your detention, your family was concerned about your health and called on the government to release you. Can you shed more light on that?

A: During my detention, I was diagnosed with a blood infection, high diabetes, high blood pressure, and low oxygen levels. These conditions were discovered while I was in prison. I hadn’t experienced these issues before. The poor prison conditions led to my hospitalization.