Sudan releases 258 rebel fighters

A total of 285 rebel fighters who were captured during various battles with government forces, have been released from Kober prison in Khartoum Bahri, following a Presidential amnesty.

A total of 258 rebel fighters who were captured during various battles with government forces, have been released from Kober prison in Khartoum Bahri, following a presidential amnesty.

The rebel fighters were captured during the attack of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on Omdurman in 2008, and other battles in Darfur, including Donki Baashim, Goz Dungo, Fanaga, and Kulbus. Many of them faced the death sentence.

The decree by President Omar Al Bashir announced yesterday lifting the death penalties was initially treated with scepticism by rebel leaders. However, the actual release of the men at Kober prison today was greeted with joy.

According to the president, “the decision was issued to promote the spirit of national reconciliation and create a climate for sustainable peace in the country under the stage at which the will of the people of Sudan is manifested in the recommendations of the national dialogue and document.”

Speaking on behalf of the released men today, Abdelaziz Oshar, one of the leaders of Operation Long Arm* the 2008 JEM attack on Omdurman (and half-brother of JEM leader Jibril Ibrahim) told reporters that “the reason we were armed was not because we want to carry guns. It’s because the regime refuses to address our national issues.” (Watch video in Arabic)

Oshar, who achieved a PhD while in prison, confirmed that the release did not include Ibrahim El Maz and senior officers who were captured at Goz Dungo in Darfur. He appealed for them to be released too.

Maj Gen Abu Obeida, Director of the Sudanese Prison and Rehabilitation Service, said that all except one of the men on the president’s list have been released. He said that “the last man on the list, whose release was delayed by an administrative error in the spelling of his name, will be released on Sunday.”

Picture: Maj. Gen. Abo Obaida, director of the Sudanese Prison and Rehabilitation Service (SUNA)

Jibril Ibrahim, the head of JEM welcomed the decision and considered it a good step in the right direction, but criticised the decision for failure to include all political detainees.

He criticised the decision for not mentioning the prisoners of the SPLM and explaining that he does know if the decision includes all the prisoners of SLM factions led by Minni Minawi and Abdel Wahid.

He stressed that the release of all political prisoners and detainees is an essential condition for the creation of a comprehensive national climate for dialogue, real negotiations and serious efforts to reach a genuine peace.

SLM-MM leader Arko Minni Minawi, described the decision as “political and for media consumption.”

He told Radio Dabanga that “dropping the death penalty for prisoners of war does not make sense, considering that the penalty against them was a clear violation of international conventions that guarantee the rights of prisoners in the first place.”

He demanded the government to respect human rights, including prisoners of war and pointed out that within 15 years, his Movement has released 1,000 prisoners, witnessed by international organisations, but have not received one prisoner from the government.

Abdelwahid El Nur, leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-AW (SPLM-AW), downplayed the importance of the President's decision of dropping death penalty for dozens of prisoners and amnesty for others.

In an interview with Radio Dabanga, he ridiculed President Al Bashir about the decision to drop the death penalty for prisoners of war,” who should be treated according to the Charters of Rome, the United Nations and the law of war, not by death sentence”.

He renewed his accusation that the government has killed thousands of people and livestock in Jebel Marra using chemical weapons.

He appealed to the international community to send an inquiry committee to find out facts about the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra.

*Operation Long Arm

On 10 May 2008, a large group of JEM rebels from Darfur entered Omdurman, where they clashed with Sudanese security troops. Heavy fighting raged for several hours. The rebels then began to move towards the El Ingaz bridge to cross the White Nile into Khartoum in an apparent attempt to reach the Presidential Palace, while another JEM force headed towards the National Radio and Television building in Omdurman. Both attacks were repelled. Sporadic fighting continued for the next 48 hours.

Four days later JEM admitted defeat in the raid in which they said a third of their fighters took part, but promised further attacks on the capital. A number of JEM rebels were arrested, as were many Darfuri civilians living in Khartoum.

By April 2009, the Sudanese government sentenced 82 JEM fighters, including senior commanders, to death by hanging as guilty of terrorism and illegal possession of weapons. By November 2009, the number of JEM members sentenced to death was more than 100.

Picture: SUNA

Picture: SUNA

Picture: SUNA

Picture: SUNA

Picture: Radio Dabanga

Some of the released men (Picture: Radio Dabanga)