JUBA, Jan. 31 — The Sudan People’s Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO)
loyal to South Sudan’s former deputy president Riek Machar said on Monday
that they have released 15 government soldiers to the International
Committee Red Cross (ICRC) as required by a recent cease-fire agreement.
Lam Paul Gabriel, SPLA-IO Deputy Military Spokesperson, said the prisoners
of war were released on Sunday in KoloPach airstrip, in the eastern state
of Jonglei. He said another group of 11 prisoners of war refused to return
to the capital, Juba for fear of persecution from the government, adding
that they have been allowed to live among displaced people in the same
region where they were detained. “This is the third time the SPLA-IO is
showing compliance with the Cessation of Hostilities (COH) agreement signed
on Dec. 21 last year while other partners have not yet complied,” Lam said.
“The Leadership of the SPLA-IO appreciates the field commanders and the
State leadership for keeping these POWs safe and helping them get reunited
with their families wherever they may be,” he added.
According to the COH agreement signed between the government and several
rebel groups in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, all parties agreed to
release political detainees and prisoners of war and hand them to the Red
Cross within 14 days. The agreement also called on the warring parties to
surrender children enlisted or recruited in their ranks to the UN
children’s agency UNICEF in the stipulated period. ICRC could not confirm
or deny release of the detainees but said in a statement on Sunday that it
had informed the parties to the South Sudan conflict of its readiness to
act as neutral intermediary in facilitating release of detained persons.
Francois Stamm, Head of Delegation for the ICRC in South Sudan, said the
ICRC aims to secure humane treatment and conditions of detention for all
those deprived of their liberty, regardless of the reasons for their arrest
and detention. He added that the ICRC seeks to alleviate the suffering of
their families, particularly by restoring communication between detainees
and their relatives. “We have approached the various parties concerned in
what will remain a bilateral and confidential dialogue and have already
facilitated a number of releases. “Our role is to make any potential
related release possible and ensure that those released are transported
voluntarily and safely, not to play a part in negotiating or comment on the
implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities by the parties,” Stamm said.
South Sudan has been embroiled in four years of conflict that has taken a
devastating toll on the people, creating one of the fastest growing refugee
crises in the world. A peace deal signed in August 2015 between the rival
leaders under UN pressure led to the establishment of a transitional unity
government in April 2016, but was shattered by renewed fighting in July
2016. – XINHUA