Darfur Rebels Release Int’l Peacekeepers, Hold Sudanese

Posted February 20th, 2012 at 2:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Rebels in Sudan's Darfur region say they have freed 49 international peacekeepers they seized Sunday but are holding onto three Sudanese nationals.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said the peacekeepers from the joint U.N.-African Union mission in Darfur entered rebel territory without permission.

JEM's chief negotiator, Ahmed Togud Lisan, told VOA (Sudan Project) that the mission, known as UNAMID, should consult with his group on security matters to avoid any future problems.

Officials with UNAMID say the peacekeepers are working on securing the release of the three Sudanese, who JEM suspected of being spies.

The JEM is the strongest of the rebel groups that have been fighting Sudan's government since the Darfur conflict began in 2003. The mainly non-Arab groups accuse the central government, dominated by Arabs, of neglecting their region.

UNAMID was deployed in 2007, after rights groups said government forces were raping and murdering civilians and burning down their villages.

The force consists of more than 17,000 troops and more than 5,000 police stationed in Darfur to maintain security and order.

Peacekeepers have frequently been caught up in the region's tension and violence. UNAMID says 110 of its personnel have been killed during the course of the deployment.