A controversial Swiss-based Christian human rights group said today that it had bought the freedom of 5,514 more slaves in Sudan during a secret mission last week.
In a statement, Christian Solidarity International said the latest redemption brought to 20,961 the number of slaves freed through its program since 1995.
"The slaves, mainly Christian and animist women and children from the Dinka tribe, were brought out of captivity in northern Sudan and returned to their homeland in the south by eight networks of Arab retrievers," the Zurich-based group said.
Christian Solidarity International accuses the armed forces of Sudan's National Islamic Front of capturing Christians and animists in raids that it says are part of the government's jihad, or Islamic holy war, against minorities who resist its policies of "forced Islamization and Arabization."
The Sudanese government denies slavery exists as such, but says it is trying to stamp out abductions for forced labor.
The Christian group has come under fire for allegedly fueling the slave trade. UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy has said buying slaves' freedom "encouraged more trafficking and criminality."
In October, the U.N. Economic and Social Council withdrew the Christian group's accreditation because it had allowed Sudanese rebel leader Col. John Garang to address a human rights forum last March during speaking time allotted to it as a nongovernmental organization.
In its statement, Christian Solidarity International said more than 100,000 people remain in bondage in northern Sudan as slaves or are "subjected to slave-like practices in [the] Sudanese government's concentration camps--often euphemistically called 'peace camps' for the displaced."
The group said it had paid Arab middlemen a fee of about $50 per slave in its latest operation.
"During the [army] raids, villages are torched, men are shot dead, the elderly are beaten and abused, and women, children, cows, goats and food stores are captured as war booty," the group said. "The women and child slaves are forced to walk for days to the North. On the way, beatings, public executions and gang rape are commonplace.
"In the North, the slaves are divided among their captors. They are routinely subjected to forced labor, sexual abuse--including female genital excision--forced Islamization, beatings, death threats and racist verbal abuse and a meager diet," it added.