South Sudan frees prisoners; clashes abate
* South Sudan demands release of prisoners
* Fighting ebbs for first time in a week
* AU calls for deal within three months
JUBA/BEIJING, April 25 (Reuters) - South Sudan freed prisoners of war on Wednesday as clashes appeared to abate between north and south, after cross-border fighting that threatened to tip into all-out war.
Nearly all oil production has now stopped and the border fighting in contested oil-producing regions has grown more intense, prompting China, which has economic interests in both countries, and the African Union to push for a diplomatic deal.
"The SPLA (South Sudan's army) handed over prisoners of war to the ICRC. They were 14 who were captured during the battles of Heglig from April 10-15," Philip Aguer, spokesman for South Sudan's army, said in Juba.
Aguer was referring to the Heglig oilfield which the SPLA captured earlier this month but later withdrew from, under international pressure. Juba has since accused Sudan's armed forces of bombing its territory, a claim Khartoum denies.
South Sudan's government and its army have said the deal was brokered by Egypt during its foreign minister's visit to both countries about 10 days ago.
The prisoners are expected to arrive in the north on Thursday morning, Sudan's state news agency SUNA said.
The border area appeared calmer after Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said on Tuesday Khartoum was ready to resume talks on security issues. A day earlier, President Omar al-Bashir had ruled out negotiations.www.trust.org