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South Sudan releases some political prisoners to satisfy rebel negotiators

A total of seven men, arrested on conspiracy charges, have been freed by the South Sudanese government in response to a request by rebels who are involved in peace talks in the African nation.

By Reuters / January 29, 2014

In this photo released by the Kenya Presidency, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, receives seven of the 11 leaders accused of plotting a failed military coup in South Sudan in December, after they were flown to Kenya where they will still be held in custody according to a spokesman for South Sudan's president, in Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014.

Kenya Presidency/AP

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Nairobi, Kenya

South Sudan freed seven political figures on Wednesday who had been arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup, partially meeting a rebel demand at peace talks focused on ending weeks of fighting.

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The seven, who were handed over to neighboring Kenya, were among a group of 11 detained after fighting broke out in South Sudan's capital in mid-December and spread across the world's newest country.

"We don't feel bitter, we don't feel the president is our enemy," one of the freed men, South Sudan's former justice minister John Luk Jok, told reporters in Kenya's capital Nairobi.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president Riek Machar of starting the fighting in a bid to seize power.

Machar, who is in hiding, denies the charge and accuses Kiir if using an outburst of violence to round up his political rivals.

Kiir has since been under intense pressure from regional powers, Washington and the United Nations to respond to Machar's demand to free all 11 detainees to push forward shaky peace talks taking place in Ethiopia.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, who appeared with the freed detainees, said east African leaders would continue pressing Kiir for the release of the four others who remain in detention and may face treason charges.

South Sudan's justice minister on Tuesday said the seven would be released because of insufficient evidence against them.

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