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South Sudan: Rebels Free 10 Aid Workers

Ten aid workers detained in South Sudan last week were released after the rebel group holding them confirmed their identities as representatives of relief agencies, the rebels said on Monday.

South Sudan

Lam Paul Gabriel, a spokesman for the rebel group, the SPLM-IO, said that its fighters detained the aid workers on Wednesday at a checkpoint in rebel-held territory in the southern part of the country.

He said that the aid workers, all South Sudanese citizens, were transferred to two rebel bases before being flown by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Juba, the capital, on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Lam said this was the second time in a month that the rebel group had detained aid workers in the region for traveling in rebel-held territory without giving notice.
“We have explained this time and again to O.C.H.A.,” he said, referring to the United Nations agency that coordinates humanitarian aid efforts.

He accused nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations agency of cooperating with the South Sudan government, which the rebels have been fighting since 2013, while flouting the same protocols in rebel-held territories.

“They need to get clearance from us also,” Lam said. “We have civilians to protect in these areas.”

The aid workers disappeared in the restive Central Equatoria region of South Sudan with humanitarian groups having difficulty accessing parts of the region because of the violence there.

The South Sudanese Army, loyal to President Salva Kiir, repeatedly clashed with rebel groups allied to the deposed vice president, Riek Machar. Both sides have been accused of targeting aid workers and committing widespread rights abuses.

The humanitarians were working for the United Nations and other aid groups when they were detained. 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.

François Stamm, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in South Sudan, confirmed the aid workers’ release in a statement.

“While we are relieved these 10 humanitarians have been released, we want to remind all parties to the conflict that aid workers are never a target,” he said.

South Sudan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be an aid worker: 100 have been killed since the conflict began in 2013 – the vast majority of them South Sudanese, the United Nations said.

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