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NAIROBI, 7 July (IRIN) - The Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) has released more than 150 prisoners of war ahead of the inauguration on Saturday of a new Sudanese government of national unity, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.
The communications coordinator for the ICRC in Sudan, Paul Conneally, said the total number of prisoners released by Thursday was 180.
"More than a hundred other prisoners are expected [to be released] in the coming days," he added.
The SPLM/A was expected to release a total of 300 prisoners by the weekend. In a statement, the ICRC said it had been asked to facilitate the transfer of the released prisoners in accordance with the wishes of the parties to the conflict.
"The release is a welcome development for the ICRC, the detainees and their families, and marks a significant step towards fulfilling the conditions set out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," the statement said.
However, it noted, the ICRC had repeatedly asked the Sudanese government to grant it similar access to detainees under its jurisdiction, without success.
"No access has yet been granted," it said.
The southern-based SPLM/A signed an agreement with the Khartoum government on 9 January, ending more than two decades of north-south conflict that left an estimated two million people dead and four million displaced.
The chairman of the SPLM/A, John Garang, is due to be sworn in on 9 July as first vice president of a new transitional government of national unity and president of a newly semi-autonomous southern region.
The ceremony will coincide with the lifting of the country's 16-year-old state of emergency and the start of a six-year interim period. Following this interim period, a referendum will decide whether southern Sudan will remain part of the country or become independent.
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