Several humanitarian agencies operating in South Sudan’s troubled Upper Nile have started withdrawing their staff.
The agencies were pulling workers out from Waat, Walgak and Akobo in Jonglie State, citing safety concerns as tensions rise between rebels and government forces, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) in Juba.
Ocha said in weekly brief that over 60 aid workers were moved last week from several locations in Upper Nile, due to intensified conflict.
The decision comes a few days after the killing of three aid workers in the western Wau Town last week.
The killing brought the number of aid workers who have lost their lives in South Sudan to at least 82 since 2013.
South Sudan’s Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Gatwech Peter Kulang, confirmed the relocation of the aid workers from the rebel stronghold.
He said the agencies were not taking chances since the employees often fall victims in the event of fighting between the South Sudan warring factions.
As the redeployment and withdrawal of aid workers continues, the humanitarian needs continues to rise across the war-torn country.
Upper Nile is the stronghold of rebel leader Riek Machar, who fell out with President Salva Kiir.
Meanwhile, South Sudanese former rebels on Tuesday released 16 UN staff after holding them hostage for several hours in a camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a UN official said.
About 530 former rebels from South Sudan are living in the Munigi camp, just outside of Goma, where they fled when fighting flared in the South Sudanese capital of Juba in July.
“We are pleased to confirm that all 16 Monusco staff, who were earlier being held in a camp for former combatants in Munigi, have been released,” said a UN official.
The 16 staff worked for the UN mission, known as Monusco, but there were no details about their nationalities.
“The camp is quiet and under full control of Monusco. All staff have returned safely to their homes,” said the official.
The official added that there were no casualties from the incident and that the mission had opened an investigation.
The combatants, who were disarmed when they entered the camp, have for months demanded to be relocated, but UN officials have been unable to find countries willing to take them in.
Rebel leader Riek Machar remains in South Africa and has been prevented from returning.
Elsewhere, South Sudanese rebel factions on Tuesday called on the international community to investigate what they term as targeted killings along ethnic lines nearing genocide in the war-torn country.
The SPLA-in opposition , Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement - Former Detainees , National Democratic Movement, People’s Democratic Movement, South Sudan National Movement for Change and National Salvation Front said in a joint statement that genocide was being orchestrated by the government as the region and international community kept quiet.
“We urge the region and the international community to urgently investigate, document, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of recent genocide in Wanduruba, Yei, Lainya, Pajok and Kajokeji in Equatoria, Wau in Bahr el-Ghazal, and in all of Upper Nile before appropriate courts or tribunals,” they said.”
As this murderous campaign unfolds, the region and the broader international community, for the most part, has stood by, excused the aggressor and justified the inaction of the world on the intransigence of the perpetrator,” they added.
The rebels also said the tribal killings underway were reminiscent of the December 2013 fighting that resulted into the killings of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic people, to which former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir belong respectively.
However, President Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny has denied SPLA troops were orchestrating killings along tribal lines.
He added the government can not commit genocide against its people. “The government cannot commit, implement genocide against South Sudanese. The state apparatus can not be used against a particular tribe,” he said.