Photo by: Isaac Billy / UNMISS / CC BY-NC-ND
April26, 2018—NAIROBI, Kenya — Ten relief workers traveling in South Sudan have been abducted by an armed group, the United Nations said on Thursday. The kidnapping underscores the risks to humanitarian aid providers in the war-afflicted African country.
A statement from the United Nations said the aid workers, all from South Sudan, disappeared on Wednesday during a trip through the southern part of the country. The statement gave no details on the armed group that seized them or its demands.
This is the third time in six months that aid workers have been held by militants in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country. At least 98 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since it devolved into civil war in 2013, two years after it was founded. The majority of the aid workers killed since the conflict began are South Sudanese.
The United Nations statement called for the release of the workers “without condition so that their work can continue.”
“We are deeply concerned about the whereabouts of these humanitarian workers and are urgently seeking information about their well-being,” Alain Noudehou, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, said in the statement. Aid organizations working in the country, he said, “are here to help the people of South Sudan and should not be targeted.”
The aid workers disappeared as their convoy was traveling from Yei to the town of Tore, about 50 miles northwest, in the restive Central Equatoria region. Because of violence, much of the area has become inaccessible to humanitarian groups.
The South Sudanese Army, which is loyal to President Salva Kiir, has repeatedly clashed with rebel groups loyal to the deposed vice president, Riek Machar. Both sides have been accused of targeting aid workers and committing widespread human rights abuses.
Edmund Yakani, executive director of the humanitarian group Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, in Juba, said it has seen a rise in attacks on South Sudanese aid workers since mid-March.
“The trend toward targeting humanitarian work is on a daily basis increasing,” said Mr. Yakani, whose 60 staff members around the country report daily on the conditions.
“When the population is in need and humanitarian workers are being targeted, it’s using humanitarian aid as a weapon of war.”
Parts of Yei state are controlled by a rebel group loyal to Mr. Machar, but a senior rebel official there, Frank Matata, said he did not believe it was behind the kidnapping. Earlier this week, he said, there were skirmishes in the area between the rebels and a breakaway faction. He said it was not immediately known who was holding the aid workers or where.
“I do not believe it was us,” Mr. Matata said, “because I was not notified. They would have told me.”
Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesman for the main rebel group in South Sudan, the SPLM-IO, said he did not know whether his group was behind the kidnapping, which he learned about on Wednesday when a United Nations official reported staff members as missing.
All of the missing are South Sudanese citizens working for the United Nations and other international organizations. One is from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; two from Unicef; one from the South Sudanese Development Organization; two from Across, a Christian aid group; three from Plan International; and one from Action Africa Help International.
“I firmly condemn the latest attack against colleagues engaged in emergency humanitarian assistance in Central Equatoria and call on all parties to the conflict in South Sudan to ensure a safe and secure environment, conducive to the delivery of assistance,” Mr. Noudehou said.
© 2018 | New York Times