KHARTOUM, Sudan, Mar 26, 2005 (AP) -- The first batch of Sudanese soldiers released since this African country's 21-year southern civil war ended in January arrived in Khartoum on Saturday and more are expected to return within the next day.
The first group of military prisoners of war, who were held by SPLM, disembark from a plane when they arrived in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, March 26, 2005. (AP).
The Sudanese army said 76 ex-prisoners returned to the Sudanese capital aboard a military plane in line with a peace agreement signed Jan. 9 by the government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army. The deal ended Africa's longest running conflict that claimed more than 2 million lives, mostly through war-induced famine and disease.
Gen. Mohamed Al Khanjar El Tayeb said another 84 soldiers will reach Khartoum by Sunday and the entire group will undergo medical checks and questioning before being reunited with their families.
The SPLA had been holding the 160 prisoners in the area of in Kordofan state town of Muglad, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) southwest of Khartoum, he said in a statement. It was unclear how long they had been held for.
"This is the first group of the prisoners of war who were held by the movement and who number 160," he said.
The POWs return followed talks between the SPLA and the government sparked by efforts of the Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children, an organization established in 1999 comprising civil servants and tribal representatives from north and south Sudan.
It was formed to help find those abducted during the civil war, especially women and children, and has so far located and registered more than 7,000 people. Of these more than 2,700 have been united with their families, mostly in southern Sudan.
Last month, the minister of state for foreign affairs, Najeeb al-Khair Abdel-Wahab, said the government had indications the SPLA was holding about 700 POWs.
The southern war, which had no connection with the conflict in the west Sudanese region of Darfur, began in 1983 and pitted Islamic-dominated Khartoum against rebels seeking autonomy and a greater share of the country's wealth for the Christian and animist south.