Sudan has pardoned and released powerful Janjaweed militia chief Musa Hilal, a UN-sanctioned leader accused by rights groups of atrocities in Darfur.
The release of Hilal and other members of his forces comes as Sudan's transitional government pushes peace efforts in the war-ravaged western region, following an October peace accord with rebel groups aimed to end decades of conflict.
"Musa Hilal was released along with others," Ismail Aghbash, an aide to Hilal, told AFP. "They are now on their way back home."
He had been in detention since 2017.
Hilal's "Awakening Revolutionary Council" force confirmed their leader's release along with other members on Thursday, saying "the case against them was cancelled" following a pardon by the authorities.
Hilal was formerly close to ousted president Omar al-Bashir, who supported the Arab Janjaweed forces against marginalised ethnic African minorities when war erupted in Darfur in 2003.
The fighting, which has waned in recent years, killed some 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.
Hilal was slapped with UN sanctions in 2006 amid allegations of overseeing "atrocities" in Darfur, accusing him of being "responsible for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law."
In 2014, he fell out with Bashir's government after he accused it of seeking to sabotage relations between tribes in his home state of North Darfur.
Hilal, 60, was arrested in 2017 after clashes between his troops and the government's powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
But Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following mass youth-led protests against his ironfisted rule.
The former president was convicted in December 2019 for corruption, and has been on trial since July 2020 for the Islamist-backed 1989 coup which brought him to power.
He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during in the western Darfur region.
In recent months, renewed clashes between Arab and non-Arab tribes in the Darfur region killed more than 250 people.
The latest violence coincided with the end of a long running joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission in the region on December 31.
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