Red Cross facilitates release of 125 Sudanese soldiers captured by paramilitary force

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The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it had facilitated the release of 125 Sudanese army soldiers held captive by the country’s rival paramilitary force.

The soldiers walked free on Wednesday, the ICRC said, as the violent conflict between the army, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, enters its 11th week.

Fighting between the rival forces broke out on April 15 and has killed more than 3,000 people, the country’s Health Ministry said. Over 2.5 million people have been displaced, according to the latest UN figures.

The freed men — 44 of whom were wounded — were transported from the capital, Khartoum, to the city of Wad Madani, 160 kilometers (100 miles) to the south, the ICRC said in a short statement. It remains unclear where the 125 men were being held.

“This positive step means that families will be celebrating Eid-al Adha with their loved ones,” said Jean Christophe Sandoz, ICRC’s head of delegation in Sudan.

The RSF claim to have detained hundreds of army soldiers since the fighting broke out. Interviews with army detainees feature prominently on the paramilitary’s social media, with soldiers — who often appear bruised and frightened — telling their families they are being treated well by their RSF captors.

Earlier this week, both generals separately announced a cease-fire to mark the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, which fell on Wednesday. Residents from East Khartoum said light gunfire and intermittent explosions could be heard throughout the truce.

Since the conflict broke out there have been at least nine cease-fires, but all have foundered.
The UN and other rights groups have continually criticized both forces for harming civilians and violating international law.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the UN’s mission to the country condemned the army for bombing residential areas, while accusing RSF of ethnically targeted violence in the western Darfur region and raping civilians.

Darfur, along with Khartoum, has been the violent epicenter of the ongoing conflict. In West Darfur province, the RSF and Arab militias have been reportedly targeting non-Arab tribes, according to local rights groups and the UN.

In a report issued last week by the Dar Masalit sultanate, the leader of the African Masalit ethnic community accused Arab militias, backed by the RSF, of “committing genocide against African civilians.” More than 5,000 people were killed in the province’s capital, Genena, he estimated.

ICRC rescued 297 children from an orphanage in the capital in early June. The operation came after 71 children had died from hunger and illness in the facility since mid-April.

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