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South Sudan Rebels Show Peace Gesture

FILE - Rebel troops of the Sudan People's Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) unload their weapons at their military site in Juba, Apr. 25, 2016.

The rebels of the Sudan People’s Army in Opposition (SPLA IO), loyal to Riek Machar, said they handed over 15 South Sudan government soldiers to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the KoloPach airstrip in the Jonglei state.

SPLA IO deputy military spokesperson Col. Lam Paul Gabriel said Sunday that 11 other government soldiers refused to go to Juba for fear of persecution from their commanders.

‘’The SPLA IO welcomes their decision and gave them the freedom to live among the displaced people in the state. This is the third time the SPLA IO is showing compliance with the Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed in December last year, while other partners have not yet complied,’’ Gabriel said.

The ICRC did not confirm or deny the handover but said it is not in a position to comment on its confidential dialogue with the parties or on any other related development.

Francois Stamm, ICRC's head of the delegation for South Sudan, said the ICRC has a long-standing record as a neutral intermediary in facilitating releases of persons deprived of their freedom in relation to an international or noninternational armed conflict.

“The overriding aim is to alleviate the suffering of people whose lives have been disrupted by conflict," Stamm said in a statement released Sunday. "As a neutral and independent humanitarian actor, the ICRC ensures that each detainee is handed over voluntarily by giving them the opportunity to express individually and in confidentiality any concerns they might have."

South Sudan minister of information and government spokesman Michael Makuei denied the government is holding rebels captured during fighting. But South Sudan army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Lul Ruai Koang, told VOA’s South Sudan In Focus that six rebels of the SPLA IO are in government custody at Koch village in Bentiu. Koang said the rebels were allegedly receiving medical care from gunshot wounds.

The SPLA IO said the regional bloc of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the three countries of the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom should give directives to South African authorities to release Machar, who has been under house arrest since October 2016.

‘’This will prove commitment and seriousness from the side of the IGAD and the troika in trying to bring lasting peace in South Sudan. The resistance continues," Gabriel said.

The cease-fire agreement signed by various South Sudanese armed and unarmed parties mentions ICRC as a facilitator for the release of people persecuted in relation to the conflict in South Sudan.

“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.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.