Juba — A South Sudanese official on Tuesday said the young nation welcomes Sudan's decision to release 800 of its prisoners, describing it as a "good gesture" by the latter.
"Sudan accepted to release all prisoners. We received five prisoners on Monday. I think they may be part of the group. This is a good gesture from Sudan and we welcomed it", Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the country's information minister, told a media briefing in the capital, Juba.
On 11 February, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) released five South Sudanese army (SPLA) soldiers in Nyala, whom they allegedly arrested in Kafan Dibi, South Darfur state.
Marial said the interior and humanitarian affairs ministries, in collaboration with international organisations, were making the necessary arrangements to receive the prisoners.
He did not specify whether those being released are prisoners of war or ordinary citizens previously held in various detention centres in Sudan.
However, officials at South Sudan's immigration department say most of those released by Sudanese authorities were women detained after they were caught selling locally brewed alcohol to make ends meet. Under the country's Islamic laws, brewing or selling alcohol is prohibited in Khartoum.
Marial also maintained it was the first time Sudan was releasing such a large number of South Sudanese prisoners since a peace agreement signed in 2005.
"It has never released such a number even when we release[d] prisoners of war during the war. We have never received [this many prisoners] until the peace [deal] was signed", he said.
South Sudan fought its northern neighbour during over two decades of bloody civil war, which ended after the signing of the 2005 peace deal brokered in Naivasha, Kenya.
In July 2011, South Sudan seceded from Sudan after its population overwhelmingly chose separation in a self-determination vote.