Sudan rebels hand over prisoners of war, boosting ongoing talks
A rebel group operating from Sudan's Nuba Mountains handed over nine prisoners of war to Khartoum authorities on Thursday after neighbour South Sudan's mediation, potentially boosting chances for the two sides to reach a final and permanent accord.
The nine men who have been in the captivity of Sudan People's Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) were handed over to Sudan's ambassador in South Sudan, Jamal Malik, in South Sudan's capital Juba.
They were captured last month after "heavy battles" in Sudan's South Kordofan province, and were being released on humanitarian grounds to return to their families, Amar Amon, the SPLM-N secretary general, told a news conference in Juba.
"As individuals we don't have problems with them but we have problems with the government," he said.
Sudan's ambassador, Jamal Malik, told the news conference Khartoum welcomed the handover of the prisoners, although he said they were not members of Sudan's armed forces.
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Sudan's government has in recent years been pursuing efforts to reach accords with rebel groups across the country and end decades of conflicts that displaced millions of people killed hundreds of thousands.
Some rebels from the country's south and from the troubled western region of Darfur have already signed agreements to cease hostilities.
But a faction of SPLM-N led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu who has control over significant forces and territory from his stronghold in South Kordofan has held out.
Talks between the rebel group and Khartoum, mediated by South Sudan, have so far failed to yield a final accord, although progress has been made.
The area where the group operates is dominated by minority Christians and followers of African beliefs who complain of long discrimination because of their opposition to Sudan's Sharia law.
The handover of the captives by the SPLM-N rebel group signals the "good intention" from the rebels to continue to engage in talks, said Tut Gatluak Manime, South Sudan's presidential advisor on security affairs, who is heading the mediation team.