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Rights Group: 14,000 Sudan Slaves Freed

A Swiss-based human rights group says more than 14,000 slaves in Sudan have been freed in the past six months. Christian Solidarity International (CSI) says no ransom was paid for the freedom of the slaves.

Christian Solidarity International calls the liberation of thousands of black Sudanese slaves without payment an unprecedented breakthrough. The organization has been criticized by groups such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for paying ransom to free the slaves. UNICEF has argued that this would only fuel the African slave trade.

The Director of the Slavery Research Unit of CSI, John Eibner, says the releases are a major boost to the organization's six-year campaign to abolish abductions and enslavement of blacks from Southern Sudan. And he said they prove the correctness of CSI's methods.

"There is this big breakthrough of slaves returning in large numbers. There is this mass exodus of black slaves who are being liberated without the payment of any compensation fee. So this new development is further support for the correctness of CSI policy and really exposes the bankruptcy of the criticism that has been leveled against us," he said.

Christian Solidarity International blames the abductions of women and children in the predominantly Christian and animist South, on Arab Muslim militia supported by the Islamic government in Khartoum, a charge denied by the government.

A recent report by the U.N. Special Investigator on Sudan has accused militias allied with the Islamic government of mass killings, torture, rape and abductions.

Mr. Eibner said local peace accords in the last 18 months have paved the way for the return of the slaves without compensation. He said Arab chiefs agreed to the deal because they want to graze their cattle unmolested on land belonging to the Dinka, a Christian and animist tribe in Southern Sudan.

"The dry season has just started. And as we speak, the Begara Arabs will be moving their cattle closer to the Dinka territory where there is water and good pasture land. One of the important factors in this new agreement is that they want to be able to secure right of passage to that land and be able to graze unmolested," he said.

Mr. Eibner said the Sudanese government appears to be bowing to pressure from the international community to end the slave trade. To date, CSI has helped free more than 78,000 Sudanese slaves by paying about $33 per slave. Mr. Eibner says this payment system continues in areas which are not covered by the local peace agreement.