The United Nations said Friday that nearly 30 aid workers in a remote and troubled part of South Sudan had been evacuated to a peacekeeping base “for their safety” following a rise in threats and attacks.
The emergency relocation of humanitarian staff in Renk, in the country’s far north, to a UN base comes just days after the EU, US and other foreign embassies expressed deep concern over a recent escalation in violence targeting aid workers in Africa’s youngest country.
In Renk, tensions had been building for weeks between aid organizations and young South Sudanese demanding jobs, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said in a statement.
A warehouse belonging to the Swiss-headquartered charity Medair in Renk was torched on Thursday by an angry mob, local officials and eyewitnesses said.
“They just came and burned the store for Medair and left. Nobody was arrested,” said Benykeng Ajak Pal, the director in Renk for the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, a government agency.
Local youths had attacked warehouses and accommodation belonging to aid workers after calling for them to leave Renk unless their demands were met, said interim OCHA head in South Sudan Mohamed Ag Ayoya.
“Intimidating them and forcing humanitarian activities to suspend result in delays of this much-needed assistance to the most vulnerable people, and is unacceptable,” Ayoya said in a statement.
Wracked by Conflict
The violence in Renk follows an uptick in attacks on humanitarian workers and aid convoys in other parts of South Sudan, which has emerged from a six-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 dead, but is still wracked by armed conflict and lawlessness.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the EU and the heads of mission of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Canada, the US, UK and Switzerland condemned recent attacks against humanitarian staff.
“In 2020 alone up to 14 humanitarian workers have lost their lives and this continues to make South Sudan one of the most dangerous places to work as a humanitarian,” the statement said.
“Attacks on civilians, aid workers, facilities and supplies are in breach of international humanitarian law.”
South Sudan achieved statehood in 2011 after a decades-long war of independence from Sudan, its larger, Muslim-majority neighbor to the north.
But the fighting turned inward in 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting against him, and South Sudan was torn by civil war until a ceasefire largely paused the bloodshed in September 2018.
Kiir and Machar formed a power-sharing government in Juba earlier this year but key terms of the peace agreement, such as bringing their respective soldiers under one national army, have stalled.