Rebels fighting the government in the southern parts of Sudan have freed some 127 captives with the army welcoming the move amid a renewed ceasefire.
The military said on Sunday that the freed prisoners included 109 soldiers and 18 civilians who had been captured by rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
In a statement, army spokesman Brigadier Ahmed Khalifa al-Shami hailed the release as a major step toward reaching permanent peace in Sudan’s volatile southern states.
“The Sudanese army recognizes this as a positive step toward achieving peace in the country,” he said.
Fighting erupted in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in 2011 after rebels said they had become fed up with the discriminatory policies of the government in the two states.
They say President Omar al-Bashir and his Arab-dominated government have marginalized the two regions both economically and politically. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced in the fighting in the two states and in Darfur. The United Nations has regretted the halt of humanitarian aid delivery to the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, saying the states have become no-go areas for aid officials for years.
In January, the government in Khartoum extended for six months a unilateral ceasefire that it had announced in the three conflict zones in June last year.
Bashir has repeatedly said that reaching permanent peace in the volatile border regions is a cornerstone of reform policies he has embarked on.