UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, said that 75 people, including 54 children, many kidnapped by the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army, had been handed over to U.N. agencies in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum since January 18.
The first group of 21 people are scheduled to fly to the Ugandan capital Kampala on Friday, accompanied by officials from UNICEF and the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.
UNICEF, which gave no details about how the Ugandans were released, attributed the "retrieval" of the 75 people to accords which Sudan and Uganda reached in Nairobi last month.
The agreements, facilitated by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, include provisions to locate and return abductees to their families. Uganda repatriated 72 Sudanese prisoners of war earlier this month, as part of the Nairobi deal to patch troubled relations between the two African neighbors.
"UNICEF is highly appreciative of all that has been done by the government of Sudan to ensure the success of this first stage of the process," the agency's director, Carol Bellamy, said on Thursday.
"But there can be no rest until all the children who have survived have been traced and returned to their homes," she said in a statement.
But Bellamy said she did not know if any of the girls kidnapped from St Mary's College in Aboke, Uganda, in October 1996 were among the 54 children.
The St Mary's abduction brought international attention to the plight of children taken by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Some 140 girls were marched from the Catholic boarding school in northern Uganda, where support for the government of President Yoweri Museveni is weakest.
A head teacher, Sister Rachele Fassera, chased the rebels into the bush and obtained the release of 100 pupils. A few others have escaped since but at least 21 are still missing.
Those who returned told how they were forced to kill other children, some as young as six years old, or subjected to beatings. They told of youngsters tied to trees to die of dehydration or imprisoned in trenches of dead children. Many girls were sexually abused and given as "wives" to fighters.
UNICEF estimates more than 5,000 children are still missing after being abducted to Sudanese camps by the LRA rebels loyal to Joseph Kony, a former Roman Catholic catechist.
His group, which seeks to overthrow Museveni, had received support from Khartoum in exchange for joining the government's war against tribes in the non-Islamic south.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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