Red Cross says in talks on Darfur prisoners

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KHARTOUM, Sep 15 (Reuters) The International Committee of the Red Cross said today it was in talks with Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government over the release of Sudanese soldiers seized by the rebels last week.

''Since the beginning of the year we have facilitated the hand over of 100 detainees in Darfur,'' Iris Celine Meierhans, an ICRC official, told Reuters today.

''We are ready in this situation to play the same role. We are in contact with (the rebel Justice and Equality Movement) JEM and the government to try to arrange that.'' Rebels from JEM and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) said last week government planes bombed the town of Haskanita in north Darfur before ground fighting ensued, claiming casualties on both sides.

Khartoum denied launching the attack, saying its troops were caught in a rebel ambush.

An SLA field commander said today the rebel group was holding 37 Sudanese soldiers as prisoners from the attack. He said the SLA had called on the ICRC to act as intermediaries in their release but they were denied access.

Khartoum says the rebels do not have any prisoners from the battle and says it has no knowledge of the Red Cross being denied access.

''We have 37 prisoners of war from the attack on Haskanita.

We want the Red Cross to come but the government refused to let them in,'' Abu-Bakr Mohammed Kadu, an SLA field commander, told Reuters.

''We believe the Sudanese government is deceiving its troops and it turned away the Red Cross because the prisoners-of-war will deliver correct information to their fellow troops about what is going on here.'' JEM field commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr said the prisoners included a general commander and a lieutenant colonel.

Meierhans said the ICRC was often called by Darfur rebel groups to act as an intermediary in the release of prisoners-of-war.

''They call on us as the neutral intermediary. So it's in this respect that we were contacted last week by JEM,'' she said.

Ashr said the rebels had yet to decide conditions for the release of the prisoners.

REUTERS GL PM2100

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