Sudan frees captives

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pretoria - The four men who were arrested by the Sudanese army three weeks ago were on Sunday released and turned over to the African Union (AU) chief mediator Thabo Mbeki.

The men - one South African, Briton, Norwegian and South Sudanese interpreter - were accused of spying for South Sudan. They have been handed over to the ambassadors of their respective countries.

Mbeki, acting as head of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan, has been in Khartoum since last week meeting with officials including President Omar al-Bashir in an effort to push South Sudan and Sudan back to the negotiating table.

Negotiations were suspended after border fighting last month. A deadline set by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the two sides to resume talks has elapsed. On May 2, the UNSC adopted a resolution demanding Sudan and South Sudan immediately cease all hostilities and hold unconditional negotiations maximally by May 16.

Mbeki says the Sudanese government is willing to settle its differences with South Sudan through dialogue, provided that the security issue is set as its top priority.

Following his meeting with al-Bashir, Mbeki told reporters that the Sudanese president stressed that no effort should be spared to guarantee the security of the two countries and that Sudan is committed to the implementation of existing agreements regarding the issue.

Mbeki said Sudan was also committed to the creation of a demilitarised zone aimed at separating the two armies along the 1956 border as well as to launch joint efforts to verify the border.

He further reiterated the AU's keenness to facilitate the two sides' talks to ensure they will produce agreements that can bring about peace and security.