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Darfur rebels release last 3 Unamid staff

2012-02-22 13:42

Khartoum - Rebels in Sudan's Darfur region have released two Sudanese interpreters and a Yemeni police advisor detained on Sunday during a peacekeeping patrol, the UN-African Union mission to the region said on Tuesday.

They had been taken away by rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who blocked the 55-member patrol, said Susan Manuel, a spokesperson for the Unamid mission.

"We were blocked from moving in a village that was surrounded by hills" where the rebels were stationed, Manuel said.

But except for the two interpreters and the Yemeni, "no one was taken in custody", Manuel said.

A JEM spokesperson, Gibril Adam Bilal, insisted all of the three were Sudanese but he said they were freed after a Unamid commander confirmed they worked for the mission.

They were initially suspected of being government security agents, he said.

Rebels stopped the patrol of mostly Senegalese troops for "investigation" because they had entered a JEM-controlled area without permission, Bilal said.

They were later released after the rebels concluded the peacekeepers entered without knowing the area was under JEM control.

Unamid said the incident, involving more than 100 armed rebels, occurred about 60km from the Unamid patrol's base in Um Baru, northwestern Darfur.

In a statement, the Unamid chief Ibrahim Gambari said his troops had refused to leave until the interpreters and the Yemeni could rejoin the patrol.

International humanitarian law

"This afternoon everyone has returned, without injury and without any conditionality," Gambari said, condemning the incident as a violation of international humanitarian law and a possible war crime.

"The standoff ended after the arrival of substantial peacekeeping reinforcements, as well as after repeated contacts with JEM leadership by Unamid representatives," the UN statement said.

The JEM and other rebel groups drawn from Darfur's non-Arab tribes rose up against the Arab-dominated Khartoum government in 2003. In response, the government unleashed state-backed Janjaweed militia in a conflict that shocked the world and led to allegations of genocide.

Since then, much of the violence in the region has degenerated into banditry.

The United Nations estimates that at least 300 000 people have died as a result of the Darfur conflict, while almost two million people remain displaced.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10 000.

Last year the government signed a peace deal in Doha with an alliance of Darfur rebel splinter factions but JEM and other key rebel groups refused to sign.

President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.