April 17,2012 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, has accepted international pleas to release Sudanese prisoners of war which the country’s army captured after taking over the contested region of Heglig.
The government made the pronouncement hours after the Egyptian foreign affairs minister held talks with senior government officials including his South Sudanese counterpart, Nhial Deng Nhial, prior to meeting Kiir to deliver a message from the Egyptian government.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Kiir, the Egyptian foreign affairs minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, said he had come to urge both countries to cease their hostilities. Many analysts now believe Sudan and South Sudan are officially at war with each other over their disputed oil-rich border areas.
“I have come to listen and learn from the leaderships of the two countries. This was why I was in Khartoum yesterday and held talks with senior government officials there. I met president Bashir and some of his cabinet members and advisors over the currently developments. I listened to him and I came to here to meet and listen to the leaderships of this country”, Amr told reporters
Speaking at the same briefing, minister Nhial Deng Nhial said his country welcomed the Egyptian initiative to visit the two countries to listen to them and see how best they can work together with others to resolve disputes through peaceful dialogue.
He said South Sudan had “always been prioritising peaceful dialogue”.
Nhial then announced Kiir’s positive response to the Egyptian plea to release the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) prisoners.
“The Sudan People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] conforms to the United Nations Covenant on Prisoners of war. This has been demonstrated even during the war [1983-2005] we have released 300,000 Sudanese prisoners of war in good health”, he said.
Speaking at a separate press briefing on Monday, South Sudan’s Minister of information and broadcasting, Barnaba Marial Benjamin said his country respects international law.
“We are not an isolate of our own. We are part of the world and this is why our president responded to the calls including pleas by the Egyptian government to release prisoners of war to their families,” Marial told journalists.
Marial said the prisoners of war are now ready to be released in collaboration with the Egyptian government and their return would be facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Bol Makueng, secretary of information at the secretariat of the country’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) said in another interview that the prisoners are in good health.
He asked the international community to pressure the Khartoum government to “observe human rights in their treatment of South Sudanese in Khartoum and also to produce prisoners of war they have captured in the fighting.”
This week the house of South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar was raided in Khartoum and seven South Sudanese arrested including an ill boy and a young girl. Sudan claims that weapons were found at the house but Machar has denied this.
On 8 April a nine month grace period for South Sudanese to either leave Sudan or formalise their status as foreign nationals expired. Presidents Kiir and Bashir were due to meet in Juba to sign a deal on citizenship rights and security but Khartoum cancelled the trip after clashes erupted around Heglig at the end of March.
Both sides accuse the other of starting the fighting that has since escalated dramatically.
Khartoum claims that Sudanese rebels backed by Juba helped the SPLA take Heglig a week ago. This is denied by Juba but photos from the Associated Press news agency appear to show fighters from Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement in Heglig on 15 April.
JEM, two other Darfur rebel groups and the SPLM-North operating in South Kordofan and Blue Nile formed a coalition earlier this year aiming to overthrow the Khartoum regime. The SPLM-N fought with the SPLA in the Sudanese civil war, which ended in 2005 and are still back by some elements of the Juba government according to research group the Small Arms Survey.
Juba denies this and says that Khartoum is using South Sudanese rebels as proxies to destabilise the young country, especially around its oil fields in Unity State. The Small Arms Survey also state that there is evidence that Khartoum is supporting these groups – although this is also denied.
Makueng also called on the international community to investigate the recent instructions given by South Kordofan governor, Ahmed Haroun, to the Sudanese Army not bring back any captured prisoners of war alive.
The comments broadcast by Al Jazeera appear to indicate Haroun, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes in Darfur, was encouraging the army to break the Geneva conventions on the conduct of war.
Al Jazeera English | South Sudan captures prisoners of war from North | 15 April 2012