JEM to free 35 prisoners of war2010-06-08 14:00
Khartoum - Darfur's main rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, is preparing to free 35 captured members of the Sudanese army, JEM officials said on Tuesday.
"We have 35 prisoners of war who we are ready to return to the government, nine of whom are wounded," senior JEM commander Mohammed Ali told AFP, speaking by satellite phone from South Darfur.
"For five days now we have asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to come and collect them. Yesterday (Monday) evening we were informed that the ICRC was ready to pick them up, but we are still waiting," he said.
The rebels have accused the Sudanese authorities of blocking the ICRC's access to rebel-held areas, but sources close to the negotiations say the soldiers' release is imminent.
"ICRC stands ready to facilitate any handover should it be requested by both parties, the government of Sudan and the JEM," said ICRC spokesperson in Khartoum Aleksandra Matijevic, without elaborating.
The ICRC says in May it helped transfer 88 soldiers captured by JEM, despite clashes in the war-torn Darfur region costing almost 600 lives - the highest death toll since peacekeepers were deployed there in 2008.
Last month, 440 people died in fighting between Darfur rebels and government forces, 126 in tribal violence, and 31 in other violence, including murder, according to a document authored by the UN-African Union peacekeepers in Darfur (Unamid).
The surge in violence follows the breakdown of peace talks between JEM and the Khartoum government after the signing of a framework peace agreement between the two sides in February.