JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - Five South Sudanese prisoners of war returned to Juba Monday, hours after they were released by authorities in Sudan, who had held them since the middle of last year.
The five former prisoners of war arrived at Juba’s airport mid-afternoon, on board an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aircraft, and were greeted by a contingent of SPLA officials.
They would undergo medical examinations and have some time to rest, before they meet with President Salva Kiir, SPLA spokesman Kella Kueth said.
While Kueth hailed the return of the soldiers as a positive move by Khartoum, he said that the SPLA believes Sudan is holding more South Sudanese soldiers.
Sudan says it captured the five SPLA fighters last year in South Darfur after an incursion into Sudanese territory.
When Khartoum announced last week that it would release the POWs as a gesture of goodwill, it asked South Sudan to make a reciprocal gesture and free any prisoners from the north that it might be holding.
But SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said Juba does not have any Sudanese soldiers in custody.
The last time South Sudan captured prisoners of war was in April 2012 in Heglig, the oil town that the once unified Sudans fought over from late March until late April last year, Aguer said.
But, he added, all of those POWs were turned over to the Egyptian ambassador to South Sudan in the presence of the ICRC shortly after the conflict ended.
The ICRC confirmed in a statement issued Monday that it helped to repatriate 13 Sudanese POWs from South Sudan in April last year, and facilitated the return of 19 South Sudanese prisoners of war released by Sudan in September.
The ICRC was asked by Khartoum to help organize the return to Juba of the latest SPLA prisoners. The released POWs were handed over to the ICRC in Sudan and escorted back to Juba by an official from the international aid organization.