Hundreds of people held as slaves in government-controlled Sudanese camps have reached freedom in the southern part of that nation after what was described as a “harrowing exodus from bondage.”

According to a statement from Christian Solidarity International, 374 slaves safely reached the town of Warawar in southern Sudan yesterday. Representatives from CSI and members of the local Dinka community are attending to them.

Over the past three weeks, the organization says, 503 slaves, mainly women and children, were gathered from government-run camps in northern Sudan. Most of the slaves had been held in the camps for between one and three years. The 374 slaves were tightly packed in open trucks, approximately 55 on each truck. The remaining 129 of the 503 slaves had not yet arrived as of yesterday.

According to the report, the convoy of slaves was detained for more than a week near the southern Sudan border after being threatened by government-sponsored militias. It took the intervention of the World Union of Progressive Judaism at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to secure government approval for the slaves to continue their journey to freedom. However, at least one boy was reportedly re-abducted by his knife-wielding master as the convoy crossed the Bahr-Al-Arab River into the southern portion of the nation.

CSI says the slave exodus was organized and led by James Aguer and other members of the Committe for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children and members of the Warawar Arab-Dinka Peace Committee. CSI is providing humanitarian assistance to the liberated slaves.

Sudan’s cleric-backed National Islamic Front regime in the Arab and Muslim north declared a jihad on the mostly Christian and animist south in 1989. Since 1983, an estimated 2 million people have died from war and related famine. About 5 million have become refugees. The Khartoum government denies that slavery exists in Sudan.

This week, the Sudanese government boycotted the opening session of peace talks with rebels designed specifically to end more than a year of fighting between them in the Darfur region of Sudan.

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